The Shawmut Dam on the Kennebec River between Fairfield and Benton is pictured on Aug. 20, 2021. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

The safety of smart meters, public funding for elections in Maine’s largest city, two state agencies’ handling of a hydroelectric dam’s relicensing and the sentencing of accomplices in sexual assault cases are among the topics Maine’s high court will consider this week when it convenes in Bangor.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court will hear oral arguments Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at the Penobscot Judicial Center.

Justices will consider another appeal in the ongoing dispute over the potential health hazards of smart electric meters at 11:30 a.m. Thursday.

Last year, the Maine Public Utilities Commission approved a request by Central Maine Power Co. to revise the terms and conditions of its program that allows customers to replace smart meters with solid-state meters that don’t transmit data via radio waves.

The Maine Coalition to Stop Smart Meters appealed, arguing that the commission disregarded evidence and a federal court’s ruling in Washington, D.C., about possible health threats from low-level radiation.

The dispute is over a change to CMP’s options for opting out of smart meters.

Initially, the Public Utilities Commission required the utility to provide analog meters for a fee to customers who requested them. Then commissioners last December amended the opt-out option to allow CMP to install a different kind of smart meter without a radio transceiver after it allegedly ran out of analog meters.

CMP employees read those meters every two months.

A separate lawsuit over the monthly fees CMP charges customers who choose the opt-out option is pending in U.S. District Court in Portland.

In another case, justices for a second time will consider an appeal by a citizens’ group that sought to amend the Portland City Charter to allow public funding for candidates in city elections

The case stems from a decision by city officials to block the group’s initiative from appearing on the municipal ballot in 2019. Maine’s high court ruled in June 2021 that officials did not provide adequate reasoning for blocking the initiative, saying that the city “failed to make findings of fact to explain its decision.”

Behind closed doors, Portland officials allegedly created the findings of fact the justices asked for, but Fair Elections Portland maintains in its latest appeal that the process violated voters’ due process rights because it did not consider evidence or adopt findings based on any evidence. 

Justices will hear arguments in this case as voters in Portland consider another initiative in next week’s election to establish a fund that provides public campaign financing to municipal candidates who agree to fundraising limits.

Those arguments are scheduled for 10:40 a.m. Thursday.

The Supreme Judicial Court will hear a case over a hydroelectric dam that has made its way into this year’s gubernatorial race at 10:40 a.m. Tuesday.

Brookfield Power US Co. and other entities that hold interests in hydroelectric projects in Maine sued the Maine Department of Marine Resources and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection over the agencies’ actions relating to federal licensing of the Shawmut dam on the Kennebec River. The dam provides power and intake water to the Sappi Mill in Skowhegan.

A Superior Court judge dismissed the action as not ready for judicial review because the federal licensing actions still are pending. In its appeal Brookfield argues that its claims are fit for judicial review because “they challenge ongoing illegal actions” by the state agencies and because the company will suffer hardship if its claims are not resolved now since a federal challenge is unlikely to be successful.

And in two separate criminal cases, defendants are asking that their convictions be set aside.

Marcus Asante, 26, of Fitchburg, Massachusetts, is serving a 35-year sentence at the Maine State Prison in Warren after his September 2021 conviction in the 2016 slaying of Douglas Morin Jr., 31, of Oakfield during a marijuana deal gone wrong.

His conviction last year marked the second time he had been convicted. He was initially convicted by an Aroostook County jury in November 2018, but the Maine Supreme Judicial Court overturned those convictions because of faulty jury instructions and ordered that Asante be retried.

That trial was held in Auburn last year with the same result and the same sentence.

In his new appeal, to be heard at 9:50 a.m. Wednesday, Asante claims that the judge in Androscoggin County should have given the jury an instruction on self-defense and that his sentence is too long.

The Maine attorney general’s office, which is responsible for prosecuting homicides in Maines, maintains that the evidence did not require a self-defense instruction and the sentence was proper.

Under Maine law, Asante could not face more prison time after the second trial than was imposed following the first one.

The appeal of a Sabattus woman serving a five-year sentence at the Maine Correctional Institute in Windham for sexually abusing an 8-year-old girl in 2019 with her boyfriend, 31-year-old Travis Walker of Bethel, will be heard at 10:40 a.m. Wednesday. Bethany Ringuette, 38, claims that her sentence was calculated incorrectly and her 10-year period of supervised release is too long. The Oxford County district attorney’s office maintains that both were imposed correctly.

There is no timeline under which justices issue decisions.