The effects of a brain injury from a November 2011 automobile accident got so bad for Newport lawyer Dale Thistle that he finally reported himself to the state Board of Overseers of the Bar.

That report and other complaints about his work led to Thistle’s indefinite suspension from practice by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court this month. Complaints to the bar included Thistle’s alleged mishandling of a divorce case, real estate litigation that took too long and, on a couple of occasions, misspeaking to the judge in the courtroom.

The June 6 order of suspension, based on a recommendation by the Board of Overseers, refers to Thistle, 66, of Skowhegan as a “disabled attorney” whose injury caused him to violate the rules of professional conduct and as someone who is “a threat to clients, the public and to the administration of justice.”

Thistle said he agrees with the suspension. He said persistent seizures, mini-blackouts and a lack of direction paint the real picture of what he can do and what he can no longer do following damage to the nerves in his right frontal lobe.

MERITORIOUS COMPLAINT

“They are right – I did not disagree with the action of the board of overseers,” he said in an interview. “The complaints are serious and meritorious and directly stem from my brain injury. I even self-reported a misfiling in federal court. I made an error in filing a document – an error I would never have made previously. I reported on myself, in other words.”

Thistle said the accident that led to his brain injury happened about 10:30 a.m. Nov. 17, 2011, on Main Street in Palmyra, U.S. Route 2. He said a woman drove through a stop sign on Raymond Road and hit him as he drove west toward Skowhegan.

“She hit me on the driver’s door as I tried to get out of the way and she hit me again on the driver’s rear wheel and sent me flying counterclockwise,” Thistle recalled. “I flew across a ditch and landed on the road she came out of. It threw my head sideways and back, to the right and to the left.”

He was treated and released from Sebasticook Valley Hospital in Pittsfield. Both vehicles were destroyed, and police did not file any charges against the woman. A state police crash report confirms details of the accident and notes that Thistle and the other driver were injured.

After the accident, Thistle and his mother traveled to England to spend Thanksgiving with his oldest daughter. That’s when symptoms of brain injury began showing up.

He said family members noticed he was sleeping for long stretches of time.

“Three nights after we got there, at dinner, at the table with my family present, I started talking nonsense,” he said. “I started referring to my daughter as my first wife. They took me to the emergency room in Bath, England, where I was diagnosed with a severe concussion.”

A TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY

Back in Maine that December, doctors said Thistle suffered from traumatic brain injury, for which he continues to be treated. The nerves in his right frontal lobe had been severed and cannot be regenerated, he said.

The problems he experienced brought him to the point where, he said, he can’t function effectively as a trial lawyer. Thistle said that since the accident he has experienced problems with decision making, organization and discipline.

HISTORY OF SUCCESS

Thistle began to make a name for himself in Maine criminal justice circles in 1994 when he represented Sheri Lee Johnson of Old Orchard Beach. Johnson was 14 years old in October 1993 when she stabbed her great-aunt, Hazel Davison, 106 times with a kitchen knife in Davison’s Skowhegan home. Thistle persuaded the judge to try Johnson as a juvenile rather than as an adult.

Thistle also represented Jeffrey Cookson after he was charged with double homicide in 2000 for the shooting death of his former girlfriend, Mindy Gould, 20, and 2-year-old Treven Cunningham, whom she was baby-sitting, in December 1999 in Dexter. Cookson ultimately was found guilty.

Thistle also represented clients in civil cases in federal court, including a class action lawsuit brought by dozens of people who said they were illegally strip-searched in the Knox County jail, ending in a $3 million settlement.

REINSTATEMENT POSSIBLE

Thistle said if he can demonstrate medical improvement, he can apply for reinstatement of his right to practice law. In the meantime, his practice has been turned over to attorney Michael Wiers of Newport.

Wiers wouldn’t comment on Thistle’s situation.

Thistle’s road to full recovery is not easy.

“I have to say, discouragingly, I’m beginning to think there’s no possibility of improvement, because I’ve waited two and a half years for some improvement and I have none,” Thistle said. “I’ve had my IQ tested and I’m just as smart as I’ve always been. I haven’t lost my intelligence;I’ve only lost the ability to perform executive functions within my head as a result of the damage.

“I have no plans at the moment. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Thistle said he continues to have minor seizures that he is unaware of, but others tell him about. Sometimes he loses touch with where he is. He said he has been advised by friends and family members to give up driving until his condition improves.

“It appears to me that I have little direction at the present time,” he said. “I had, in my office, when I received the suspension, a number of very good cases, two of which were in federal court and I gave them up – I withdrew from them because I simply couldn’t do that kind of work anymore.

“I couldn’t organize my day-to-day life, I couldn’t stick to the tasks. It’s just the result of the brain injury.”