June 24, 2018
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Maine Board of Bar Examiners right in not allowing F. Lee Bailey to practice law in Maine

Renee Ordway
By Renee Ordway, Special to the BDN

I never once considered becoming a lawyer.

Mostly because when I was at the age when people consider such things I in no way considered myself smart enough to go to law school.

Unexpectedly, however, I found myself in a career in which I actually spent more time in a courtroom than most lawyers do.

My job as a crime and court reporter found me in the courtroom several days a week.

I learned a few things during those years I spent with my backside planted on those hard, wooden benches.

For one thing I discovered that for the most part I liked lawyers and admired many of them, actually — even defense attorneys.

It’s true. I came to appreciate even those defense attorneys who represented the most heinous and clearly guilty criminals.

I learned the value of the attorney who believed and would ensure that even “that” offender had the right to representation and a fair trial. Without someone willing to do that job, our justice system — even with all of its faults it is still the best in the world — would not exist.

So any misgivings I have about famed defense attorney F. Lee Bailey being granted the right to practice law in Maine has nothing to do with his role in the defense and acquittal of O.J. Simpson, who was accused of killing his ex-wife, Nicole Simpson, and waiter Ronald Goldman in 1994.

He had a job to do. He did it, along with the other members of Simpson’s high-profile legal team and the jury made its decision in his client’s favor.

But lawyers also have a responsibility, second perhaps only to physicians.

Lawyers are privy to intimate and confidential details of people’s lives, most often when those clients are in either personal or professional turmoil and facing life-changing consequences.

It is why every state has some version of Maine’s Board of Bar Examiners and Maine’s Board of Overseers of the Bar — to govern the conduct of lawyers as officers of the court, to ensure competent and ethical practices by its members and to promote confidence in the legal profession.

They give recourse to those who may be misled, misused or abused by an attorney.

Bailey, probably one of the most famous lawyers in the country, and now a Maine resident living in Yarmouth, sought a license to practice law in Maine in 2012. This after he had been disbarred and prohibited from practicing law in Florida and Massachusetts for reportedly misappropriating funds, testifying falsely to a federal judge and violating a client’s confidentiality.

His Maine application was denied by the Maine Board of Bar Examiners, which determined he did not have the moral character required to practice. Bailey appealed the decision and Supreme Judicial Court Justice Donald Alexander heard and eventually found in Bailey’s favor.

The Board of Bar Examiners appealed that decision to the full Supreme Judicial Court, which heard oral arguments in Portland earlier this week.

The ruling of the court will be issued at a later date.

Lawyers of course have bad reputations simply by virtue of their jobs.

I would guess there are more jokes about lawyers than any other professional.

And some, of course, are very funny and cut very close to the truth.

The real truth, however, is that the job and responsibility of any lawyer is serious business. It’s easy to laugh until you are in the position of having to place your trust, your life or your livelihood in the hands of one.

A lawyer friend of mine recently reminded me of the line from Shakespeare’s Henry VI, when the evil murderer Dick the Butcher states, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

It’s commonly used as a punch line to lawyer jokes, but in reality Shakespeare meant it as praise for lawyers’ role in civilized society.

I was right all of those years ago to understand the intellect and commitment necessary to attend and complete law school.

But intellect and commitment are only part of it — dedication to the system so fundamental to our society and the inherent ethical obligation necessary are equally as important.

There is much power provided to an attorney and hence room for much abuse. It is why each state has regulatory boards to try to ensure that those without that moral fortitude are held accountable and weeded out.

Bailey was quoted in a newspaper story stating that he “was pretty disappointed about the practice of law until I got up here. All these lawyers are honest people and practice without dirty tricks.”

Said the lawyer disbarred in two states.

I’m no lawyer but I would argue that Bailey knows a dirty trick when he sees one and that is exactly why he should not be granted the privilege of practicing here.

You can reach Renee Ordway at reneeordway@gmail.com.


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