AUGUSTA — Almost 10 years ago, Christopher Poulos was indicted in federal court in Maine on cocaine distribution charges involving four separate drug sales in March 2007 from his basement apartment in Portland.

He later spent 33 months in prison for those offenses. He was addicted to drugs and alcohol and faced a long road to recovery.

Christopher Poulos, 34, takes the oath as he’s admitted to the Maine Bar on Friday at the Capital Judicial Center in Augusta. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

On Friday, he was in state court in Kennebec County, being admitted by Maine Supreme Judicial Court Associate Justice Jeffrey Hjelm to the Maine Bar, with all the rights and responsibilities as an attorney in the state.

Poulos’ bar admission was not without hurdles. Unlike others seeking to become an attorney, he went through a 10-month process, including two days of hearings.

“The actual story is that I won the hearing after 10 months of pretty intense debate,” he said.

He said that five of six members of the Maine Board of Bar Examiners ultimately voted to grant him admission.

With his signed bar admission in hand on Friday, Poulos said, “It feels great.”

While there is no specific prohibition against those with felony convictions becoming attorneys, part of the application process says applicants must disclose “any criminal convictions (other than minor traffic violations) in any jurisdiction and the circumstances thereof.” It also provides for a hearing process, if needed, regarding the “applicant’s character and fitness to practice law.”

And state law indicates that a felony conviction indicates doubt about the applicant’s “good moral character.” The law does make exceptions if “extraordinary circumstances surrounded the commission of the crime” or if it can be proved that the person has been rehabilitated.

The road from prison bars to the legal bar led through an early commitment to AA to deal with his addictions, an internship with the Recovery Branch of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and graduation with honors from the Maine School of Law in May 2016. Poulos’ photo and story is featured on the admissions page of the law school.

“The most important thing that I did was become willing to actually listen and ask for help, ask for guidance, and then follow suggestions,” Poulos said in a phone interview before the ceremony. He said he was particularly bad at that when he was a teenager. “I learned how to ask for help and how to accept help. Whether it’s addiction, depression, whatever it may be, we all have different struggles.”

Poulos, now 34, has worked to give back to others for the last decade.

His self-improvement efforts are noted in a successful February 2012 request for an early end to the three years of federal supervised release that followed his prison term.

“During the term of involvement with the criminal justice system, the defendant has engaged in a remarkable rehabilitation,” his probation officer wrote in recommending that discharge.

The sentencing memo explains a little of what happened to the boy who graduated from Deering High School in Portland and was on track to join the National Political Honor Society at the University of Southern Maine.

He was labeled Jekyll and Hyde: “On the one hand, a talented student and gentleman, articulate and well-read, and on the other hand crumbling under the weight of cocaine and alcohol addictions and accompanying lifestyle.”

Poulos was regularly attending AA by May 2007 before he was charged with the federal drug crimes.

Christopher Poulos and his mother, Kathy Card, pose as attorney Susan Hopkins takes their picture Friday at the Capital Judicial Center. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

His defense attorney, Thomas F. Hallett, wrote in that memo, “Chris has worked the 12 Steps relentlessly. He has made amends, and now focuses on doing 12-step work providing assistance to unrecovered and recovering addicts and alcoholics alike. Chris is a youthful messenger desperately needed in the world of addiction. Such a messenger is a rare and valuable commodity. The halls of AA have been filled with middle aged individuals for years. There is a slowly growing trend towards younger members entering AA. Having talented, energetic and sober peers carrying the message of sobriety is an integral part of the success in embracing sobriety during a person’s 20’s rather than late 30’s or 40’s.”

Today Poulos is executive director of Life of Purpose Treatment at the University of North Texas in Denton, an addiction-treatment center located in an academic hall.

On Friday, Portland attorney Stephen Schwartz, who founded the Maine Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in 1992, sponsored Poulos’ admission to the bar, introducing him and making the motion to admit him. Schwartz represented Poulos at the character and fitness hearing as well.

Schwartz said he has sponsored many people for bar admission during his career. “This is a particularly special occasion,” Schwartz said. “He has overcome a lot and achieved a tremendous amount in his life.”

Schwartz outlined Poulos’ achievements in law school, saying “he was president of the American Constitution Society, helped juveniles in a law clinic there, and ultimately he was named law student of the year by the National Jurist Magazine.”

He said Poulos has worked with Portland police, legislators and U.S. Sen. Angus King on drug policy issues.

Poulos had relatives at the ceremony as well. His grandmother Margaret Poulos, of Yarmouth, said, “I cannot believe it. It’s one miracle after another, and the important thing is he still wants to help people.”

His mother, Kathy Card, of Mount Dora, Florida, watched from a side bench as her son was about to be admitted to the bar.

“Knowing Chris, it doesn’t surprise me that I’m here,” she said. “He just had a brief detour.”

Poulos is staying in Denton, Texas for now, and Schwartz noted Poulos is also an adjunct professor of criminal justice at the University of North Texas.

“I certainly intend to eventually return to Maine. Whether that’s in two or three years, I’m not sure,” he said. “My heart remains in Maine. I just love it here, especially when we don’t have 10 feet of snow.” He said he wants to work in law and policy. “Law, policy and advocacy are my passions.”

“My overarching goal is to remove substance use disorders from the criminal justice realm and have addiction treated as a health issue,” Poulos said.

Poulos volunteers his time to speak about his experiences and give others hope. On Thursday night he spoke at a meeting sponsored by Catholic Charities.

“Last night was really surreal because I was live on the evening news at 5 o’clock, and literally 10 minutes later I was talking to people currently in the same shoes I was in 10 years ago,” he said on Friday, describing them as “people fresh out of prison or going to prison. One minute I’m at a big press thing or high-level policy meeting, and the next minute I’m talking to people who are directly affected.”

About 50 people watched the ceremony that admitted to the Maine Bar both newly minted attorneys and some who have been practicing for years.

Nine other people were admitted to the Maine Bar on Friday: Kevin G. Burke of Annapolis, Maryland; Patrick O’Brien Collins, of Portsmouth, New Hampshire; Charles Edward Fyler II, of Palm Harbor, Florida; Michael Girma Kebede, of Portland; Allen L. Kropp, of Portland; Royce William Miller II, of Hong Kong; Samuel M. Pierce, of Malibu, California; Stephanie M. Simmons, of Boston; and Amy P. Tardiff, of Augusta.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

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Twitter: @betadams