Victims of the Noyes Street fire. Top row, from left: Ashley Thomas, David Bragdon, Maelisha Jackson. Bottom row, from left: Christopher Conlee, Nikki Finlay, Steven Summers. Photos courtesy of families

Advocates for victims of the 2014 Noyes Street apartment house fire that killed six people expressed frustration Thursday about the $300,000 settlement in the wrongful death lawsuits brought against landlord Gregory Nisbet.

Lawyers say they tried hard to ensure that landlord Gregory Nisbet didn’t have a hidden “pot of gold.”

The settlement provides $45,000 to the families of each of the six young victims, plus $30,000 to a survivor of the November 2014 blaze, with the money coming from the proceeds of a fire insurance policy. Nisbet and the families reached the settlement in February and the lawsuits were dismissed last month.

Lawyers for the victims were frustrated that they weren’t able to secure a larger settlement, but the final amount was limited because Nisbet had few assets beyond the apartment house, which was covered by a $300,000 fire insurance policy.

Thomas Hallett, the lawyer representing Ashley Summers, the widow of one of the victims and the lead plaintiff in the civil case, called the settlement “wholly inadequate,” but the best possible, in court filings.

“Three-hundred thousand is nothing,” agreed Bradford Pattershall, who represented the mother of fire victim Christopher Conlee in the lawsuit. “That wouldn’t have been enough (of a settlement) for one of the cases. Everybody’s very, very frustrated.”

In addition to the Noyes Street apartment house, Pattershall said, Nisbet’s only other significant asset was his Portland residence. But that house, he said, “was mortgaged to the hilt” and there was no equity in it.

“We couldn’t find anything and we turned over every stone,” Pattershall said. He said the lawyers demanded that Nisbet fill out bankruptcy forms – even though he hasn’t filed for bankruptcy – and swear that he had listed all of his assets and debts. That would allow the lawyers to go back to court if it turns out Nisbet was lying about his assets, Pattershall said.

Nisbet was tried for manslaughter in the aftermath of the fire, but was acquitted. He was, however, found guilty of a fire code violation because of the lack of a secondary exit from the building’s third-floor bedrooms and was sentenced to 90 days in jail. It’s believed to be the first time a Maine landlord has been ordered to serve time over a code violation.

Nisbet has appealed that conviction and has not yet served his sentence while the appeal is pending. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the appeal next week.

Nisbet’s original lawyers in the manslaughter case and the appeal were allowed to drop out after they told the Supreme Judicial Court that they hadn’t been paid by Nisbet. The court appointed a new lawyer to handle the appeal.

An investigator checks the scene on Nov. 1, 2014, after six people died in the deadliest fire in Portland in 40 years. The victims’ families later filed wrongful-death lawsuits against landlord Gregory Nisbet. Staff photo by Carl D. Walsh

The tenants killed in the fire were David Bragdon Jr., 27, Nicole “Nikki” Finlay, 26, and Ashley Thomas, 29. Steven Summers, 29, of Rockland, Maelisha Jackson, 23, of Topsham, and Conlee, 25, of Portland were visiting friends in the apartment house and also died in the blaze on Nov. 1, 2014.

It was the deadliest fire in Portland in four decades and led the city to set up a new Housing Safety Office, hire more inspectors and require landlords to register their units and pay an annual fee.

Pattershall said the lawyers handling the lawsuit against Nisbet worked well together, agreeing, for instance, to split the settlement equally once it became clear that the proceeds of the fire insurance payment would be the extent of the damages they could recover.

“We wanted to make sure there was no pot of gold” hidden somewhere, Pattershall said.

Under the terms of the settlement with Nisbet, most of the families will receive a lump sum of $45,000. Summers, who was married to Steven Summers, will receive $13,500 and the couple’s two children will receive $6,750 each, to be placed in trust accounts.

Summers’ lawyers will receive a fee of $18,000. The lawyers waived recovery of costs associated with the lawsuit and settlement.

Phone calls and emails seeking comment from victims’ family members were not returned Thursday night.

According to FindLaw, a website about legal matters owned by Thompson Reuters, settlements and judgments in wrongful death suits can vary widely. For instance, two years ago the city of Hayward, California, settled a suit brought by the family of a man shot by police there for $500,000. But in 2013, a jury in Los Angeles awarded $150 million to a 13-year-old girl who escaped with her brother from a family vehicle after it was hit by a truck, but then watched her trapped family members burn to death in the SUV.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]

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