The Maine Supreme Judicial Court will hear an appeal Tuesday that seeks to deny celebrity defense attorney F. Lee Bailey’s application to practice law in Maine.
A single justice of the seven-member panel ruled last April that Bailey, who was disbarred in Florida in 2001 and Massachusetts in 2003, was almost fit to return to practicing law, except for an outstanding tax debt of nearly $2 million.
The full court will now hear oral arguments at the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland on an appeal by the Maine Board of Bar Examiners that seeks to overturn Justice Donald Alexander’s decision and block Bailey’s bid to return to the career that made him famous.
“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 Knowlton said in the appeal filed on behalf of the Maine Board of Bar Examiners. “There is no dispute that Bailey is a skilled advocate. However, Bailey believes that rules that apply to all others do not also apply to him. Bailey’s failure to recognize and accept all of his past violations dooms his petition for admission.”
Over the course of his career, Bailey, now 80, represented celebrity clients such as O.J. Simpson and newspaper heiress-turned-bank robber Patty Hearst before being disbarred in Florida and Massachusetts for his handling of millions of dollars’ worth of stock that had belonged to a client in the mid-1990s.
Bailey moved to Yarmouth in 2010 and later passed the Maine state bar exam. The Board of Bar Examiners, however, denied his admission in 2012 in a 5-4 decision, saying he had not demonstrated “by clear and convincing evidence that he possesses the requisite good character and fitness necessary for admission to the Maine bar.”
But Alexander, who first heard the case over two days last March, cleared the path for Bailey’s return to law in his ruling, which required Bailey to resolve his tax debt.
“The existence of large debts can compromise professional judgment and client relations in ways that must be recognized in considering admission applications,” Alexander wrote in his 57-page ruling issued April 19. “The issue remaining unaddressed is the only bar to this Court’s granting Bailey a certificate of good character and fitness to be admitted to the practice of law.”
Bailey said last March that he hadn’t considered going back into law before he moved to Maine.
“I was pretty disappointed about the practice of law until I got up here,” he said. “All these lawyers are all honest people and practice without any dirty tricks.”
Scott Dolan can be reached at 791-6304 or at: