Legal Ethics

Will F. Lee Bailey practice law again? Opinion sees good character and one $2M problem

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At age 79, disbarred lawyer F. Lee Bailey hasn’t given up his pursuit of a return to law practice.

Last week, a justice on the state’s top court sided with Bailey on one issue in the lawyer’s appeal of a November decision by the State of Maine Board of Bar Examiners, report the Bangor Daily News and the Portland Press Herald. The bar examiners had denied Bailey a license in a 5-4 decision. But Justice Donald Alexander of Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court found Bailey has the good character and fitness to obtain a Maine law license—with one exception.

Bailey has a federal tax debt of nearly $2 million. “There is no issue of intentional tax evasion,” Alexander wrote in the decision (PDF). “However, large financial obligations may cloud one’s judgment as to what is in the best interest of clients and what is best practice for compliance with professional and ethical obligations. Thus, large debts are a cause for fitness concerns in bar admission practice.”

Alexander said he was ruling against Bailey, but he would reconsider if the lawyer offered a plan to repay the debt.

“Although disbarred, Bailey has continued to write, speak, teach, and participate in efforts to improve the criminal justice and corrections system, support economic development efforts and help returning veterans in Maine and Massachusetts, and be an active member of the communities where he has lived,” Anderson wrote. “Of particular note, Bailey has pursued his long-standing commitment to improving educational and job opportunities for inmates transitioning from prison to the community.” Anderson also noted testimony by friends and colleagues who said Bailey is more humble since his disbarment and more willing to accept advice.

Bailey was disbarred in Florida in 2001 and Massachusetts in 2003 for mishandling a client’s stock. Bailey was well known for his representation of clients such as Patricia Hearst and O. J. Simpson.

Bailey’s lawyer, Peter DeTroy of Portland, sees the decision as favorable, according to the Press Herald account. Using a football analogy, he said Bailey is now “standing on the one-foot line.”

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