Lawyers for a Portland landlord who was convicted of code violations following a November 2014 fire that killed six people have dropped out of his appeal.

Gregory Nisbet, who was acquitted last year of six counts of manslaughter but found guilty on lesser charges, had sought a new trial in Cumberland County Superior Court. A judge rejected that motion this summer, however, and Nisbet appealed to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

The high court had yet to schedule oral arguments on that appeal before Nisbet’s attorneys, Matthew Nichols and Sarah Churchill, asked to be removed from the case last month because they were not being paid. Justice Ellen Gorman granted the lawyers’ request in a written order filed last week.

“The court required Attorney Nichols to personally serve Nisbet with the motion and gave Nisbet an opportunity to respond. In the opposition Nisbet filed, he confirmed that he has not paid any fees to his attorneys for this appeal,” the order read. “For reasons that are not clear, Nisbet has not (yet) requested that he be assigned counsel.”

The appeal remains open. Nisbet, or his new attorney, must file a brief before Nov. 10.

Nisbet was the owner of an apartment building at 20 Noyes Street, which caught fire in the early morning hours of Nov. 1, 2014, trapping six people inside. It was the deadliest fire in Portland in four decades.

The victims were Nicole “Nikki” Finlay, 26; David Bragdon Jr., 27; Ashley Thomas, 29; Maelisha Jackson, 23, of Topsham; Steven Summers, 29, of Rockland; and Christopher Conlee, 25, of Portland. Bradgon, Finlay and Thomas were tenants, and Jackson, Summers and Conlee were visiting the house for a Halloween party.

The blaze started on the front porch in a plastic receptacle for cigarette butts and spread quickly, investigators said. There were no working smoke detectors and flames blocked a stairwell that might have allowed occupants to escape.

Nisbet was charged with manslaughter for each death but a superior court justice ruled that although the landlord had failed to maintain the building and inspect the smoke detectors, the state hadn’t proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the victims would have survived if not for Nisbet’s failure to take those steps.

During his appeal for a new trial, Nisbet’s attorney argued that the state did not disclose a memo from the state Fire Marshal’s Office regarding concessions for buildings built before 1976. It’s believed that the Noyes Street apartment building was built in the 1920s. That memo had said some allowances were made for older buildings, but windows still had to meet minimum size standards to be considered secondary exits – and the windows on the third floor of the Noyes Street building didn’t meet those minimum dimensions and were too small for someone to climb out.

After the fire, the city set up a new Housing Safety Office, hired more inspectors and required landlords to register their units and pay an annual fee. Nisbet’s trial was closely watched in the community and was seen as a warning for other landlords.

Nisbet was sentenced to three months in jail on the code violation – an unprecedented sentence, his lawyers argued – but has yet to serve pending the appeals.

Families for the victims have all filed wrongful death lawsuits against Nisbet seeking damages.

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

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