The school gymnasium suggests a ready canvas for small-town American democracy, but the high stakes of a town united in opposition, though ill-equipped for battle against their proverbial Goliath, seems more fitting for a courtroom.
Enter CRC attorney Walt McKee, the only face of the corporate giant in Warren, aside from Emery. McKee, a prominent criminal defense attorney in Maine, has been involved in several high-profile cases and has received awards from the ACLU of Maine and the Maine Association of Criminal Defense lawyers.
McKee won the first successful medical-marijuana defense case in Maine. His medical-marijuana advocacy is likely behind his interest in CRC's case. A successful ADA suit claiming discrimination against methadone clinics could set a precedent for future battles over medical-marijuana dispensary locations.
McKee is not the only lawyer involved. The town of Warren hired attorney Paul Gibbons to represent the Planning Board, attorney Patrick Mellor to represent the town, and a group of neighbors opposed to the clinic location hired attorney Jim Strong.
With the Planning Board's deadline for its ruling on the clinic proposal quickly approaching, the meetings became increasingly tense. Emery stopped going sometime after a particularly rowdy meeting where, he says, Guy Cousins almost got into a physical fight with a Warren resident. CRC's Tim Bohman and Joe Pritchard eventually faded from the scene, as well.
At a March Planning Board meeting, when the pungent odor of skunk wafted through the gymnasium, one man pointed to McKee, whose back was turned to the crowd, and said, "I think I found our skunk," setting off a string of murmured chuckles.
Scraping away at her cuticles with a large pocketknife, one Warren resident said she heard a rumor that CRC Health is trying to make an example of Warren, to prove that no small town is going to push the company around. "They own Burlington Coat Factory, you know?" she added.
Burlington Coat Factory is, of course, just one of many Bain Capital subsidiaries, whose $2 billion purchase pales in comparison to other Bain acquisitions during the private equity buy-out boom of the 2000s, including the $31.6 billion acquisition of Hospital Corporation of America.
It's somewhat ironic that CRC, a multi-million-dollar corporation that is anything but debilitated, is claiming protection under a law meant to protect disabled people. It's doing so by identifying not only its "future patients," but the company itself as "a person alleging discrimination on basis of disability" in the ADA suit.
"Reasonable accommodations apply to patients, of course," McKee explains, "but in this case here, where you're trying to place a facility, you're entitled to the protections of the ADA as well."
The proposed Route 1 clinic location violates Warren's Large Facilities Ordinance, which requires facilities of the size proposed by CRC to be set back 500 feet from residences; 17 homes are within that range.
McKee argues that waiving the requirement was a "reasonable accommodation" because other sites in Warren would cost "twice as much." That estimate comes from a CRC-hired architect who compared the cost of renting from Bob Emery with purchasing and building a facility. "That's a significant upcharge component. It's a major financial consideration," McKee says.