The board charged with making sure Maine lawyers behave with integrity and within the rules of the Maine State Bar Association told the state’s Supreme Judicial Court that famed defense attorney F. Lee Bailey fails on both counts and should not be allowed to practice law in Maine.
Assistant Attorney General Thomas Knowlton, representing the Maine Board of Bar Examiners, told members of the state’s highest court Tuesday that Bailey has not fully accepted responsibility for past transgressions, including misusing clients’ money, failing to pay an income tax bill of more than $4 million and criticizing a judge who ruled against him as being influenced by politics and the Department of Justice.
Bailey’s attorney, Peter DeTroy, said his client went through a bad period several years ago when he was trying to salvage his professional reputation, but that his conduct in recent years meets the standards of the Maine State Bar Association.
Bailey, who is 80 and now lives in Yarmouth, sought a license to practice law in Maine in 2012. It was denied by the Board of Overseers of the Bar, which determined in a 5-4 vote that he did not have the moral character required. Bailey appealed that decision and Supreme Judicial Court Justice Donald Alexander heard the appeal.
After hearing from many witnesses who spoke highly of Bailey’s character, Alexander ruled that he was entitled to a law license once he satisfied his disputed tax bill, which originally stood at $1.9 million but with interest and penalties has grown to more than $4 million. He later dropped that requirement.
The Board of Bar Examiners appealed that decision to the full Supreme Judicial Court, which heard oral arguments in Portland on Tuesday. The court’s ruling will be issued at a future date.
After the hearing, Bailey said he has learned from his past mistakes.
“I think ‘chastened’ is the word,” he said of the punishment and damage to his reputation after he was found to have misused clients’ funds and was disbarred in Florida in 2001 and afterwards in Massachusetts. He said he wants to get his law license back so he can start an advanced training program specifically for litigation.
Bailey said he envisions the master’s level training program would include an apprenticeship component that would require actual trial litigation in the courtroom. Among Bailey’s previous well-known clients are O.J. Simpson, whom Bailey defended against murder charges, and heiress-turned-bank-robber Patricia Hearst.
Knowlton said Bailey was disbarred for misappropriating $3 million, testifying falsely to a federal judge, violating clients’ confidentiality and committing other infractions.
“This is not attempting to punish Mr. Bailey for what he did, but to protect the public and the bar,” he said.
Justice Jon Levy asked Knowlton whether someone in Bailey’s position has to admit to every allegation before he can be considered remorseful.
Knowlton said there was nothing in the extensive records about Bailey’s behavior to indicate he acknowledges doing anything wrong.
DeTroy said Bailey’s problems came at a time when his professional world was crumbling and he had a “very precipitous and steep fall from grace, which led to his disbarment.”
Some of his earlier mistakes, including misstatements about where he lived and whether he owned businesses, were attributed to poor record keeping and lapses in memory.
Levy asked DeTroy: “Does Mr. Bailey not continue to suffer poor record keeping and memory?… Intent to deceive is not the question. … It’s capability to protect the public.”
DeTroy said those issues do not interfere with his ability to represent the public.
Justice Andrew Mead said Bailey’s allegations that a federal judge who ruled against him was politically motivated show a disregard for the judicial system.
DeTroy said Bailey was fighting for his reputation at the time, and those statements do not reflect his current feelings about the judicial system.
Knowlton countered that Bailey’s misconduct occurred over multiple years in multiple cases and that he has not repudiated all of his earlier activities.
The hearing was attended by many area attorneys.
David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: