State rules in favor of prosecutors in defamation lawsuit

Posted:  Thursday, February 14, 2019 - 2:00pm
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ROCKLAND — The state has ruled in favor of two Knox County prosecutors and one former district attorney in a defamation lawsuit filed by a Camden counselor.

Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey filed his response in Knox County Court Jan. 29 to a lawsuit filed Jan. 9 by Paul Kemberling, a licensed professional counselor in Camden, against former District Attorney Jonathan Liberman and current Deputy District Attorney Jeffrey Baroody and Assistant District Attorney Christopher Fernald.

In the lawsuit, Kemberling accused the three of defamation, slander, fraud, intentional infliction of emotional distress, tortious interference with economic advantage, negligence and civil conspiracy.

The lawsuit states that beginning in February 2018, Baroody and Fernald communicated to defense counsel by email that they were no longer going to accept Kemberling’s services as an evaluator of clients.

Kemberling alleged in the lawsuit that the defendants course of conduct was due to actual malice against him.

The prosecutors said in their correspondence that since Kemberling’s son was prosecuted by the District Attorney’s Office, they were concerned that the counselor would be fair and neutral in his evaluations.  

According to the lawsuit, the evaluations are often a part of the process for prosecutors to reach plea agreements, or deferred dispositions, with defendants.

Kemberling’s son, Eli Kemberling, was convicted in July 2015 of breaking into two homes in Camden and Rockport and assaulting women while they slept. He also possessed a knife in one of the incidents. The case was prosecuted by the District Attorney’s Office and he was sentenced to serve three years in prison.

The attorney general stated in his response that “this is precisely the kind of lawsuit that prosecutorial immunity is supposed to bar.”

The state’s position is that the negotiation of plea or sentencing agreements is a core prosecutorial function and prosecutors must be guided exclusively by their unbiased assessment of how to best protect the public interest and pursue justice, without fear of liability.

“If Kemberling’s claims in particular are allowed to proceed, the message sent to prosecutors will be that they must put the business interests of non-parties ahead of the criminal justice interests of the state,” Frey further stated in his response.

The state concluded that the lawsuit should be dismissed in its entirety.

Sarah Shepherd can be reached at news@penbaypilot.com