AUGUSTA — Going door to door as the election approached last fall, state House candidate Joshua Morris said he often heard a question that had nothing to do with his stance on the issues facing Maine.

Voters were asking him about Seth Carey.

Seth Carey Sun Journal 2018 file photo

At the time, Carey sought election as the district attorney for Androscoggin, Oxford and Franklin counties despite possessing a suspended law license with little prospect of getting it back in time to serve as a prosecutor.

Morris said the situation was “certainly disconcerting” for many who felt “a sort of frustration” at the strange scenario they faced on Election Day.

Ultimately, though, Carey, who won the Republican primary last June for the DA’s seat, lost his general election bid to oust incumbent Democrat Andrew Robinson. As a result, officials never had to face what would happen if voters picked as their next chief county prosecutor a person whose license was under suspension.

Current law requires that only attorneys who are admitted to the practice of law in the state may be elected or appointed district attorney. The law does not specifically address the issue of a person who holds a suspended license.

Now that Morris has a seat in the House, the Turner Republican is trying to make sure that in future political races, nothing as bizarre as the one surrounding Carey could happen again.

A bill he introduced would mandate that in addition to the requirement that a district attorney hold a law license in Maine, he or she must also have avoided a suspension of their law license for at least the previous decade.

State Rep. Joshua Morris Submitted photo

It would also require the automatic removal from office if a prosecutor’s law license is suspended or if he or she is disbarred.

Insisting on that “extra level of qualifications” would block candidates from appearing on the ballot if they’re not able to hold the district attorney position, Morris said

“The job of district attorney is an important one in our system of government,” Morris told the Judiciary Committee. “The confidence of our citizens in our justice system is paramount to our republic. It is important that the person who represents the people in court have high ethical standards and be equal to the task before them.”

Morris said the proposed measure would bring “a level of clarity” that’s needed to make sure what happened with Carey’s candidacy doesn’t happen again.

It’s not clear whether the measure will win support from the Legislature, however. There are questions about whether it ought to apply more broadly – to include probate judges, for example – and some are skeptical about approving a law to cover what they view as a unique episode that’s unlikely to arise again.

Carey was barred from practicing law in Maine a year ago, two months before he won the GOP primary for district attorney. The suspension stemmed from a protection-from-abuse order issued against Carey by a Rumford judge.

In September, Superior Court Justice Thomas Warren ruled in an 18-page order that Carey had violated several bar rules, including unlawful conduct stemming from his unwanted sexual advances involving a woman who lived at his Rumford home and his effort to pay for her silence about the matter.

In December, Warren ruled Carey’s license be suspended for three years.

In February, Carey was charged with practicing law without a license. He has pleaded not guilty.

Carey has filed notice with the Maine Supreme Judicial Court that he aims to appeal Warren’s decision. He said recently he is working on it.

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