PORTLAND, Maine — Except for a pending tax issue, well-known former defense lawyer F. Lee Bailey has the “good character and fitness” to practice law in Maine, according to a Maine Supreme Judicial Court justice.
Justice Donald Alexander denied Bailey’s appeal of a decision by the Maine Board of Bar Examiners that prevents him from practicing law in the state, but said in his 57-page decision dated April 18 that he would reconsider if Bailey, 79, offers a plan to repay the nearly $2 million he owes in back taxes to the federal government.
Bailey, who now lives in Yarmouth, passed the Maine Bar Examination in February 2012. In November, the State of Maine Board of Bar Examiners ruled 5-4 that “Mr. Bailey has not met his burden of demonstrating by clear and convincing evidence that he possesses the requisite good character and fitness necessary for admission to the Maine Bar.”
Bailey appealed that decision to the state supreme court.
“There is no issue of intentional tax evasion,” Alexander wrote. “However, large financial obligations may cloud one’s judgment as to what is in the best interest of clients and what is best practice for compliance with professional and ethical obligations. Thus, large debts are a cause for fitness concerns in bar admission practice.”
Bailey’s attorney, Peter DeTroy of Portland, said Tuesday that his client planned to address Alexander’s concern.
DeTroy said that litigation is pending concerning Bailey’s tax debt.
Bailey, a practicing litigator for six decades, was on the defense team for Dr. Sam Sheppard; heiress Patty Hearst; Albert DiSalvo, who was convicted of crimes attributed to the Boston Strangler; and O.J. Simpson.
He also has been working with a Maine group trying to exonerate Dennis Dechaine in the 1988 murder and kidnapping of 12-year-old Sarah Cherry in Bowdoin.
Bailey was licensed to practice law in Massachusetts and Florida, according to a previously published report. In the early 2000s, he was disbarred in both states after a Florida Supreme Court ruling on seven counts of attorney misconduct that stemmed from his handling of a case involving an accused marijuana dealer.
Bailey spent 44 days in federal prison before he was released after repaying millions of dollars worth of stock in a pharmaceutical company he had transferred from his former client’s assets.