The organization that governs the conduct of lawyers licensed to practice in Maine on Monday issued a low-level sanction against the district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties.
The admonition, which is not considered a disciplinary action, was agreed to by Maeghan Maloney. It was made public following a 45-minute hearing before a grievance committee of the Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar held in Lewiston District Court.
Last year, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court found that a meeting with Maloney and Superior Court Justice Donald Marden violated the due process rights of Eric Bard, 26, of Sidney. The court set aside Bard’s 50-year sentence for alleged sex crimes against a 4-year-old girl. The state’s high court ordered that new hearings be held on his competency along with motions to dismiss the charges and suppress evidence.
Maloney was accused of violating the bar rules by having a conversation with a judge in June 2014 about a defendant her office was prosecuting without the defense attorney or the assistant district attorney who was handling the case present. The prosecutor agreed that she violated bar rules during that meeting.
“In this matter, DA Maloney agrees that her misconduct violated duties that she owed to the profession,” the decision read. “DA Maloney did engage in an improper discussion with the trial court, but she believed she was required to respond to the court’s directive to appear for that meeting.
“The commission also finds that while DA Maloney did communicate information relevant to a determination of Bard’s competency, she subjectively believed that she was required to provide this information to ensure that she was completely and fully responding to the trial judge’s questions,” the decision said. “DA Maloney recognizes that she should not have commented on Bard’s defense counsel.”
The Board of Overseers’ rule on sanctions states that admonitions are “imposed only in cases of minor misconduct, when there is little or no injury to a client, the public, the legal system, or the profession, and when there is little likelihood of repetition by the lawyer.”
The Board of Overseers’ issuance of the admonition ends the matter since Maloney waived her right to a review of the decision. The purpose of bar disciplinary proceedings is not punishment, but rather the protection of the public arising after attorney misconduct, according to information on the board’s website.
In a statement issued after Monday’s hearing, Maloney said that she thought she was behaving properly.
“Five years ago, when this happened, I understood that I was required to answer a judge’s questions,” she said. “At the time I thought I was doing the right thing. Now I understand that I should have refused the call to his chambers and I should have refused to answer his questions even though a court reporter was present.
“This result sends an important message to all of us who find ourselves in a position with someone who has power over us,” Maloney continued. “Whether it is an attorney to a judge, a teacher to a principal, or a nurse to a doctor, we do have the right to say no. If anyone finds themselves in a similar position and wants to use me as motivation to stand up for themselves, then I will be cheering them on.”
Information about whether a disciplinary action is pending against the judge was not available Monday. Information about whether a complaint has been made against a judge is not public unless the Committee on Judicial Responsibility and Disability issues a disciplinary decision. As of Monday, none had been issued concerning Marden, who has active retired status.
Bard’s case, now being prosecuted by the Maine attorney general’s office, still is pending. A gag order put in place by Marden, who recused himself from the case after the state supreme court’s ruling, still is in effect so no one can comment, Marc Malon, spokesman for the attorney general’s office, said earlier this month.
Maloney is the second district attorney and the fourth prosecutor to be sanctioned by the Board of Overseers. Dee Bassano, who was district attorney in Hancock and Washington counties from 2011 until 2014, when she retired, was issued a public reprimand in July 2015 for discovery violations in three separate criminal cases in 2013 and 2014.
In 2012, the Board of Overseers determined Mary Kellett, while working as an assistant district attorney in Hancock County, violated seven rules that govern the conduct of Maine attorneys. She later was ordered to undergo remedial training. Kellett now is in private practice.
Kellett’s former boss, Assistant District Attorney William Entwisle, also was issued a public reprimand at the same time for the same conduct.