PORTLAND, Maine — Lawyers for the local landlord convicted of a misdemeanor in Maine’s deadliest house fire in decades have dropped his case because he isn’t paying them.
Gregory Nisbet, who was acquitted last year of six counts of manslaughter and a slew of misdemeanors related to a fatal 2014 fire on his property, said he’s been left “indigent” by the numerous legal cases against him. And last week, a judge ruled that the landlord’s lawyers don’t have to handle his appeal to Maine’s top court for free.
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Thursday granted Matthew Nichols and Sarah Churchill’s request to withdraw from the appeal, despite Nisbet’s protests that the lawyers knew when they took the case that he might have his assets frozen.
“[Nisbet] confirmed that he has not paid any fees to his attorneys for this appeal,” Justice Ellen Gorman wrote in her order allowing the lawyers to withdraw. “For reasons that are not clear, Nisbet has not (yet) requested that he be assigned counsel.”
Last October, Nisbet was convicted of a single misdemeanor for his role in the accidental fire at his Noyes Street duplex that killed six people. The landlord was sentenced to pay a $1,000 fine and serve 90 days in jail, but he has remained free while the appeal is pending before the high court.
At some point the courts froze Nisbet’s assets, he wrote in a Oct. 6 court filing attempting to stop his lawyers from withdrawing.
In that filing, Nisbet requested that the court order Nichols and Churchill to continue representing him for free during his appeal. Justice Gorman declined, but did grant Nisbet additional time to file his brief to the top court.
Family members of the people killed in the Noyes Street fire have brought civil lawsuits against Nisbet, which are on hold until his criminal case is closed.
Nisbet did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Nichols, who shares a law practice with Churchill, declined to comment.