Aaron Frey called the relationship "an error in judgment," but said it did not break state law.
Aaron Frey acknowledges applause on Dec. 5, 2018, after he was elected to be Maine's next attorney general at the State House in Augusta. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

AUGUSTA, Maine — Attorney General Aaron Frey said he began a romantic relationship last year with an employee he supervised, apologizing for what he called “an error in judgment” in not having someone oversee his subordinate sooner.

The Democratic attorney general said late Tuesday that his relationship did not constitute a breach in state law, office policy or legal rules. But Maine’s consensual relationship policy emphasizes that supervisors who begin relationships with subordinates in most state jobs should disclose them so other supervisory arrangements can be considered.

The relationship began in August, Frey said in a statement released by a communications professional outside of state government. He said Deputy Attorney General Christopher Taub will now supervise Frey’s romantic partner. Through the spokesperson, Frey declined to answer questions about when that arrangement changed or when colleagues knew of the relationship.

“I should have done this once we realized we had feelings for one another,” he said in the statement. “It was an error in judgment and for that I am sorry.”

The statement came after the Bangor Daily News began reporting on tips about Frey’s relationship that it received over the past week. The newspaper had not approached the attorney general about it by the time it was released just after 10:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Roughly 25 minutes before that, Frey sent an email to office employees that was obtained by the BDN. He names his romantic partner and apologizes for “any challenges this presents to our office and work, and for any damage I may have done to your trust in me.”

Frey has never been married, but he was in a relationship with a long-term partner whom he lived with until February, that person told the BDN. The attorney general and his spokesperson did not respond to a request to confirm that. The spouse of Frey’s subordinate filed for divorce in March, according to court records.

The BDN is not naming the colleague, their spouse or the person who has been in a long-term relationship with Frey because they are not held to the same standard as the attorney general.

Frey was elected four times as a state representative from Bangor before rising to the attorney general’s office in 2019, succeeding Gov. Janet Mills when she assumed the Blaine House. The attorney general is selected by the Legislature, which Democrats have held since then. He is in his third term as the state’s top legal official.

Under Maine law, the attorney general’s office is independent of the governor, sitting outside the executive branch. Frey is not overseen by any other state official and answers to the Legislature. Consensual relationships are not mentioned in Frey’s office’s harassment policy, unlike the one governing the Mills administration that lays out a process for handling them.

These kinds of policies are important because they tamp down the possibility of discrimination or harassment if relationships between supervisors and subordinates dissolve, one expert said.

“Anyone who is in a superior relationship while dating a subordinate creates an unequal relationship,” said Carolyn Ball, a retired public policy professor at the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine in Portland.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...