PORTLAND, Maine — The justices of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court will decide if famed criminal defense attorney F. Lee Bailey will be allowed to practice law in Maine.
Oral arguments in his case are to be heard Tuesday morning in the Cumberland County Courthouse. The appeal was filed by the State of Maine Board of Bar Examiners.
Bailey, 80, of Yarmouth, has not practiced law since the early 2000s, when he was disbarred in Florida and Massachusetts. He moved to Maine in 2010.
He passed the Maine Bar Examination in February 2012. In November 2012, the board 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.”
As required, Bailey appealed that decision to a single justice of the state’s high court.
Justice Donald Alexander in April 2013 denied Bailey’s appeal and upheld the bar examiners’ decision. The judge said in his 57-page ruling dated April 18 that he would reconsider if Bailey offers a plan to repay the nearly $2 million he owes in back taxes to the federal government.
Two months later, Alexander reversed himself and granted a motion filed by Bailey’s Portland attorney Peter DeTroy to reconsider his previous decision. The justice agreed that precedent had been set by the 1992 case cited by DeTroy which showed that a woman who had been disbarred in Georgia was admitted to the Maine bar even though she had been convicted of stealing more than $400,000 in Georgia. She had not paid back any of the money stolen from her clients when allowed to obtain a license to practice law in Maine, Alexander wrote.
“A general survey of the state precedent on the debt payment issue suggests that the existence of a debt, by itself, may not result in a finding of lack of good moral character,” the justice said in Friday’s ruling. “Rather, findings of failure of proof of good moral character tend to be based on misconduct regarding effort — or lack of effort — to pay the debt, or misconduct referencing the debt payment obligation in the bar admission process.”
Bailey’s tax case is in litigation, according to DeTroy.
“F. Lee Bailey and the single justice have minimized Bailey’s established transgressions, and Bailey has failed to ‘own up’ to the full extent of them,” Assistant Attorney General Thomas A. Knowlton, who represents the board, wrote in his brief. “There is no dispute that Bailey is a skilled advocate. However, Bailey believes that rules that apply to all others do not apply to him. Bailey’s failure to recognize and accept all of his past violations dooms his petition for admission.”
DeTroy argued in his brief that Alexander’s “finding should not be disturbed because the record is replete with competent evidence showing that Bailey presently possesses the requisite good character and fitness to be admitted to the Maine bar and that his admission to practice will not be detrimental to the integrity and standing of the bar, the administration of justice or the public interest.”
In June, Bailey told the Bangor Daily News that it was the people he met in Maine in the legal profession that made him want to practice law again.
“I had lost the taste for the law in other states,” he said. “When I moved here, I got to know members of the legal community. I have an abiding affection for the lawyers and judges in Maine.”
Bailey also said his health is good, his mind still sharp and he would like to mentor younger lawyers. In March, Bailey told a southern Maine newspaper that he still has some “good cross-examination left in me.”
Despite his disbarment, Bailey has continued to lecture and write about the law. Last year, the textbook “Excellence in Cross-Examination,” which Bailey co-authored with his former law partner Kenneth Fishman, now a judge in Massachusetts, was released by West Publishing.
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.