PORTLAND, Maine — F. Lee Bailey’s quest to practice law in Maine was quashed Thursday by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court when it reversed a single justice’s decision that would have granted the famed attorney a law license.
In a 4-to-2 decision, the state’s high court reversed an earlier ruling by Justice Donald Alexander that would have allowed Bailey, 80, of Yarmouth to practice in Maine.
Bailey has not practiced law since the early 2000s, when he was disbarred in Florida and Massachusetts. He moved to Maine in 2010.
“I was disappointed when I learned of the court’s decision,” he said Thursday in telephone interview. “I thought it was going the other way. I don’t see any further remedies. This is the end of the road. But, as the fine boat builders in Maine say — if a ship can’t take a knockdown and come back up, it’s not much of a ship.”
Bailey said he would continue to work as a consultant. The former criminal defender has worked with a group trying to exonerate Dennis Dechaine in the 1988 murder and kidnapping of 12-year-old Sarah Cherry in Bowdoin.
Superior Court Justice Carl O. Bradford denied Dechaine’s motion for a new trial the same day the high court ruled against Bailey.
The justices in the majority — Jon Levy, Andrew Mead, Ellen Gorman and Joseph Jabar — concluded that Bailey “failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that he recognizes the wrongfulness and seriousness of the misconduct that resulted in his disbarment.”
Chief Justice Leigh I. Saufley and Justice Robert Clifford, who is on active retired status, dissented. They felt more information about Bailey’s $4.5 million income tax debt was needed before a final decision should be made about his fitness to practice in Maine.
Saufley wrote in her dissent that “we would remand the matter for the single justice to take evidence and reconsider whether the risk that Bailey would mismanage funds in the context of paying his substantial tax debt would render his admission to the bar ‘detrimental … to the public interest.’”
Alexander and Justice Warren Silver recused themselves from the decision.
Bailey 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.
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.
The Board of Overseers appealed Alexander’s decision to the full court. Justices heard oral arguments in January.