A former Newport attorney who allegedly stole a $260,000 settlement from a client did not show up for his arraignment on a theft charge Thursday at the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor.
An arrest warrant was issued for Dale Thistle, 72, of Quebec City, Canada. District Court Judge Bruce Jordan set bail at $50,000 cash when and if Thistle returns to Maine.
Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin, who is prosecuting the case, said her office would begin extradition proceedings in Canada to have Thistle forcibly returned to Maine to face the charge.
Thistle has not practiced law in Maine since June 2014, when he was suspended by the Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar due to a disability. He suffered a traumatic brain injury in a Nov. 17, 2011, car accident but it was not diagnosed immediately, the Waterville Morning Sentinel reported in 2014. His symptoms worsened over time until he was unable to practice, Thistle told the paper.
The alleged theft came to light after a receiver was assigned by the Board of Overseers to take over Thistle’s files and deal with any pending cases. The suspected theft was referred to the Maine Attorney General’s office, which pursued the theft charge.
The $250,000 was a wrongful death settlement meant for the estate of Gilman Friend, who died in December 2010 at the age of 82 as the result of a fall at his Newport home, his son, Dana Friend, 62, of Carrabassett Valley said Thursday after the brief court hearing. The widow, Donna Friend, hired Thistle to sue Sebasticook Valley Hospital’s ambulance service for wrongful death and negotiated the $260,000 settlement.
It turned out, however, that Donna Friend was not entitled to the money because she and Gilman Friend had divorced before his death but continued living together, Dana Friend said.
“Dale told Donna that check didn’t belong to her, it belonged to his heirs,” he said. “She signed it over to him and he kept it.”
Dana Friend and his three siblings are the heirs to their father’s estate.
Gilman Friend was a well known Newport businessman who owned a local car dealership and a real estate firm, according to his obituary. He also was active in the community and a lifetime Mason.
Thistle, who practiced in Maine for more than four decades and handled many high-profile cases, was indicted in September by the Penobscot County grand jury on one count of theft by misapplication, a Class B crime.
One of his last cases before the accident involved Cindy Dunton, the former deputy clerk and treasurer in Newburgh. She was sentenced in July 2011 to five years in prison with all but 20 months suspended for embezzling nearly $200,000 from the town.
If convicted of theft, the same charge to which Dunton pleaded guilty, Thistle faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. He also could be ordered to pay restitution to Gilman French’s heirs.
No lawyer has put in an appearance on Thistle’s behalf, according to the court clerk’s office.