Voters in Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties won’t know on Election Day whether one of the candidates for district attorney will keep his law license.
The hearing over whether Seth Carey, the Republican nominee in those counties, will be disbarred or face other punishment for alleged sexual assault is scheduled for Nov. 14. It will come more than a week after the election and less than two months before district attorneys are to be sworn into office.
To serve or be elected district attorney, Maine law requires that one be a member of the state bar. But the possibility that Carey could be elected and then lose his license has left officials uncertain of what would come next.
“This appears to be uncharted territory,” Franklin County Clerk Julie Magoon said when asked about the possibility.
After days of testimony, Justice Thomas Warren ruled against Carey on Sept. 21, finding he more likely than not assaulted and had illegal sexual contact with a woman who rented a room in his Rumford home last year. Carey has adamantly denied these allegations and has not been charged with a crime.
[Judge rules against Maine district attorney candidate accused of sexual abuse]
A courts spokeswoman, Elaine Clark, said that the date of Carey’s sanction hearing was set in “the regular course of business and based on Justice Warren’s schedule.” The date of the election was not considered, she said.
Carey’s lawyer, James Howaniec, said that the November date “seemed to work best for the various lawyers involved,” while Jacqueline Rogers, the executive director of Board of Overseers of the Bar, declined to comment.
The timing of Carey’s case could makes things tight. If he defeats incumbent Democrat Andrew Robinson — who holds a large fundraising lead — there would be only six weeks between his sanction hearing and when he would be scheduled to take office. What would happen in that window is unclear.
District attorneys are state employees paid through the attorney general’s office. And state law empowers the attorney general to ask the state’s top court to remove one from office by filing a formal complaint, according Gov. Paul LePage’s press secretary, Julie Rabinowitz.
The Supreme Judicial Court, in turn, can hold a hearing and vote to oust a district attorney if a majority of the judges find the prosecutor “has violated a statute or is not performing the duties of office faithfully,” the law states.
A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office declined to comment beyond referring a reporter to some of the relevant statutes. And how the removal process would play out is unclear, as there is no precedent on which to draw.
Maine’s high court has not removed a district attorney from office since it took on that power in 1977 following the dissolution of the Executive Council, according to research from the Maine State Law and Legislative Reference Library.
And Justice Warren’s decision on how to punish the lawyer may not finally settle the case.
Carey, who won a contested Republican primary despite having his license suspended and the party calling on him to drop out, has promised to appeal a disbarment. That too would go before the Supreme Judicial Court.
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