Legal Ethics

F. Lee Bailey loses bid for Maine law license; court notes he felt disbarment was 'kind of harsh'

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Maine’s top court has refused a law license for F. Lee Bailey, citing his testimony that his Florida disbarment was “kind of harsh” as evidence that he didn’t appreciate the seriousness of conduct.

The court’s 4-2 decision (PDF) on Thursday reversed a single justice who said Bailey met character and fitness standards, report the Associated Press, the Portland Press Herald and the Bangor Daily News. Bailey moved to Maine in 2010 and passed the state bar in 2012.

“Maine has spoken,” Bailey, 80, told the Portland Press Herald. “I gave it the best shot I could.”

The opinion by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court said Bailey minimized the seriousness of his conduct in his handling of stock owned by a drug-smuggler client. Bailey was supposed to use the stock as a trustee to liquidate his client’s assets before forfeiture, but he spent about $3 million of the stock for his own use, the Florida Supreme Court found when it disbarred Bailey in 2001.

In a hearing in his bid to regain his license, Bailey said he spent no more than the appreciated value of the stock and it was reasonable to believe he was entitled to use the stock to pay his attorney fees. Bailey testified he believed the Florida Supreme Court “had some grounds, in retrospect, that warranted disbarment,” but he believed the sanction was “kind of harsh.”

He also testified in the Maine proceeding that he believed the U.S. Justice Department tried to “engineer” his disbarment, that a Florida judge who acted as a referee in his disbarment was “hostile” toward him, and the federal judge who removed him as a lawyer for the drug dealer had developed a “distaste” for him.

Bailey’s testimony demonstrated that he should not regain his law license, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court said. “By continuing to question many of the findings and conclusions by the Florida Supreme Court, and by suggesting that … the judges who presided in his cases were biased and that the Florida proceedings were the product of a conspiracy to deprive him of his constitutional rights, Bailey minimizes the wrongfulness and seriousness of his conduct for which he was disbarred,” the court said.

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