Maine’s top court affirms suspension of lawyer who asked staffer to take his CLE classes
Text messages between a Maine solo practitioner and his assistant are strong evidence that he asked her to take his continuing legal education classes, rather than to simply download them for future viewing, said Justice Thomas R. McKeon of the Maine Superior Court. Image from Shutterstock.
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has affirmed a one-year suspension of an attorney who asked his assistant to take his continuing legal education classes.
Solo practitioner Donald F. Brown of Brewer, Maine, had appealed the October 2022 order of Justice Thomas R. McKeon of the Maine Superior Court, who found that Brown violated the Maine Rules of Professional Conduct and the Maine Bar Rules.
According to McKeon’s findings, Brown became aware in late February 2020 that he had to complete 12 hours of CLE. Brown signed up for four live seminars that require participants to acknowledge their presence when prompted. But Brown realized that he had scheduling conflicts, so he asked his assistant to sign on to the online classes in his place.
Text messages between Brown and his assistant are strong evidence that he asked her to take the classes, rather than to simply download them for future viewing, McKeon said. McKeon characterized Brown’s request as “conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.”
Brown challenged the sufficiency of the evidence supporting McKeon’s findings and argued that he imposed inappropriate sanctions. While the Maine Supreme Judicial Court found that Brown’s appeal was timely, it affirmed McKeon’s judgment.
“We will uphold the findings and inferences of the single justice ‘unless they are clearly erroneous,’” according to the court’s Aug. 24 opinion. “A finding is clearly erroneous when no competent record evidence supports it.”
“We find no error in any of the single justice’s factual findings regarding Count 1, which are amply supported by competent record evidence,” according to the opinion.
McKeon additionally reprimanded Brown for a second ethical violation for representing a client, identified as T.F., in a divorce case after they engaged in a sexual relationship. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court also found no error in this determination.
“As the single justice noted, the facts show that there was a significant risk that Brown could not give independent legal counsel to T.F. because the outcome of the divorce case would have a direct impact on Brown’s own home and personal life,” the court said.
Hat tip to the Legal Profession Blog.