A South Portland lawyer who sent sexually explicit text messages, including pictures and videos, to a woman he was appointed to represent in several criminal cases has been temporarily suspended from practicing law.

Attorney Paul L. Letourneau, who has been admitted to the Maine Bar since 2003, must turn over the handling of his pending cases to another lawyer, who has yet to be appointed, until the disciplinary case brought against him by the Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar can be finalized.

Justice Jeffrey Hjelm of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled in a July 27 order that the accusations against Letourneau are “undisputed” and that his conduct “poses an ongoing risk of harm to his remaining clients.”

Letourneau had sought to retain his license by undergoing counseling with a psychologist, withdrawing from a roster for court-appointed cases and vowing to cease contact with the woman. But Hjelm rejected those measures as insufficient at this time to protect the public from Letourneau’s behavior.

“The initial course that Attorney Letourneau has taken, combined with his expression of regret for his conduct as conveyed through counsel, is commendable. The risks to the administration of justice, the public, and his clients are not presently ameliorated, however, because that course is in its infancy: he has nor yet actually engaged in psychological intervention, and the Maine Assistance Program contract is not even a week old. Further, Attorney Letourneau started to make arrangements for therapeutic and rehabilitative intervention only after he learned that the board had initiated a disciplinary proceeding against him,” Hjelm wrote in the four-page order.

The judge said in his order that Letourneau may seek in the future to have the temporary suspension lifted if he can show his circumstances have changed.

The Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar first filed a motion seeking Letourneau’s suspension on July 20 after the woman – identified in court records only by her initials, L.K. – got a new lawyer, Richard Berne, to represent her. She told Berne what happened with Letourneau and Berne filed a grievance complaint against Letourneau on June 15.

J. Scott Davis, a staff lawyer for the Board of Overseers of the Bar, said in a petition seeking to have Letourneau suspended that Letourneau knew that the woman was newly in recovery for an opiate addiction and that his messages made her recovery more difficult.

“Attorney Letourneau’s behavior included recurrent sexualized texting, i.e. ‘sexting,’ to L.K. and repeated suggestions by him that they meet to engage in sexual acts. That unsolicited behavior was embarrassing to, unwelcomed by and at times threatening and/or intimidating to L.K.,” Davis wrote in the petition.

Letourneau did not return a phone message seeking comment.

Letourneau has been twice disciplined in the past, in 2009 and 2010, for improper supervision of his practice. In both of those cases, however, a judge suspended the periods of license suspension of seven months in the 2009 case and six months in the 2010 case. He was instead ordered to have another lawyer monitor his practice.