What do you call a lawyer who’s convinced that one of his former clients is a serial killer?

Sorry, it’s not a joke – at least not to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

“Mr. Cote has become obsessed,” wrote Justice Warren Silver in a recent four-page decision against Eric Cote, Esq., of Saco. “His wrongdoing is serious and his actions were detrimental to his former client.”

And who might that client be?

Let’s put it this way: If you thought you’d finally heard the last of Rory Holland, the convicted murderer and longtime lightning rod for all things controversial in Biddeford, think again.

And if you thought Holland’s life story couldn’t get more bizarre – it just did.

Holland is serving a double life sentence in the Maine State Prison in Warren for the shooting deaths of brothers Derek and Gage Greene in 2009 outside Holland’s home in Biddeford.

His appeal of the conviction came and went in January, meaning he’ll stay behind bars until the day he dies.

But Holland apparently still has scores to settle. And hard as it may be to believe, he just successfully settled one against his onetime attorney Cote.

It all started back in the fall of 2008, long before Holland’s propensity for violence spilled over into a pair of late-night executions in the street outside his home on South Street.

Back then, Holland was busy trying to end a relationship with Susan Varney of Biddeford. One day, he approached Cote in court and asked if Cote could help him reach a “partition” settlement splitting up Holland’s and Varney’s shared real estate assets.

Cote agreed and helped negotiate the deal – although none of his arrangement with Holland was put in writing and Cote never charged Holland for the work.

Then things got sticky.

Holland eventually became unhappy with the settlement and asked Cote to appear at a court hearing regarding its enforcement. Cote refused.

“At that point, Mr. Holland threatened to ‘put a bullet in Susan Varney’s head and put a bullet in (Cote’s) head,’ ” Justice Silver wrote in his decision. “Mr. Cote reported the threat to Ms. Varney’s lawyer and she reported the threat to the police.”

Cote, not surprisingly, also advised Holland to go find himself another lawyer.

Two months later, Holland murdered the Greene brothers.

Cote, according to court documents, felt “responsible for the deaths of the Greene brothers” – apparently because he didn’t adequately pursue Holland’s threat to shoot him in the head.

Hence Cote “embarked on a one-man crusade,” as Silver put it, to prove that Holland’s murderous streak went well beyond Derek and Gage Greene.

And how might Cote prove that?

He contacted Varney, who still had several pieces of Holland’s property from a house they once had shared – including a computer and some 60 videotapes shot by Holland over the years.

“Mr. Cote then turned over the videotapes and the computer to the police investigating the (Greene) murders,” wrote Silver.

Cote also handed over several drawings of naked women that had belonged to Holland.

Why?

“He believes that at least some of those drawings link Holland to various women who have been reported missing as well as various unsolved homicides,” says a document in the court file.

As Holland’s murder trial approached, his defense attorney asked the court to suppress all of the material collected by Cote. The judge refused, prompting Holland to claim later that the fruits of Cote’s snooping prevented Holland from testifying in his own defense.

End of story? Not quite.

One year after the murders, Cote agreed to represent Tammy Cole, the mother of Derek and Gage Greene, in a wrongful-death lawsuit against Holland. That’s when Cote logged onto a Facebook page called “Rory Holland Should Die.”

“I represent Tammy Cole, the mother of the two boys Rory shot and killed in June of 2009,” Cote wrote. “I have interviewed a number of victims of crimes that Rory Holland has done in the past, as we are very interested to interview more victims. If you have been a victim, or know someone who has been, please contact me … Thank you.”

Two days later, Holland filed a complaint against Cote with the Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar.

For starters, Holland charged, Cote had a conflict of interest dating back to the work he had done for Holland in 2008.

What’s more, he alleged, Cote violated the bar’s attorney-client confidentiality rules by handing the videotapes and other potential evidence over to state police detectives.

Long story short, the Board of Overseers agreed with Holland. So, in his ruling on March 23, did Justice Silver.

Silver conceded that Cote, while “convinced Mr. Holland is a serial killer responsible for many deaths,” believes to this day that “he has done nothing inappropriate” in his one-man campaign against his former client. Silver also noted that Cote’s 35-year record as a barrister is otherwise blemish-free.

Nevertheless, Silver ruled that Cote be given a public reprimand “in order to protect the public.” (From exactly what, His Honor doesn’t specify.)

Contacted at his office in Saco on Tuesday, Cote seemed to be taking the whole thing in stride.

Does he agree with the law court’s finding that he became “obsessed” with Holland’s past?

“Yeah,” Cote conceded. “If your mind’s always turning, thinking about something up in the corner of your head, I guess that’s being obsessed, isn’t it?”

Cote, still convinced he did nothing wrong, said he has no plans to appeal his first-ever slap on the wrist from the state’s highest court.

“I’m 64,” he explained. Besides, “if I want to appeal, I have to pay a fee and write a brief.”

More importantly, the attorney-turned-sleuth is happy to report, he no longer lies awake at night wondering about the tumultuous life and times of Rory Holland.

“He’s in jail. He lost his appeal,” Cote said. “He’s not going to kill anyone else.”

Case (at long last) closed.

 

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at: bnemitz@mainetoday.com