Lawyer course

Brewer’s lawyer suspended but can continue working

A Brewer lawyer’s license is suspended for a year, but he will be allowed to continue practicing law as long as he performs court-mandated work on behalf of the state’s poor, a Maine judge has ruled. .

Donald F. Brown, of Brewer, was suspended for falsely stating that he completed mandatory legal education courses in 2020 with the Board of Overseers of the Bar, which is the attorney licensing and oversight office of the Maine. Brown was also reprimanded for having sex with a woman he took on as a client, according to the order signed by the judge.

Superior Court Judge Thomas McKeon ruled that Brown’s action deserved punishment, but that the full penalties should be stayed as long as Brown performs court-mandated work for the state and follows through. additional legal training courses on ethics and conflict of interest.

However, Brown is not currently eligible to accept nominations through the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services, or MCILS, said the agency’s executive director, Justin Andrus.

MCILS is the state agency responsible for overseeing defense attorneys assigned to adults and children accused of crimes who cannot afford to hire their own attorney.

Maine is the only state in the nation that does not currently employ public defenders and instead relies entirely on contracts with private attorneys to represent low-income defendants. Maine is required by the state and federal constitution to provide this service at state expense.

McKeon ordered that Brown accept court appointments for criminal, protective custody, or other MCILS matters as a condition of retaining his law license.

Andrus said MCILS was not a party to the supervisory board’s lawsuit and is under no obligation to contract or refrain from contracting with Brown.

Brown has been disciplined three times by the state board of supervisors. The board dismissed a complaint and issued a warning to Brown in 2002, per McKeon’s order. Brown was publicly reprimanded in 2006 for letting the statute of limitations on a case expire without alerting his client or initiating her lawsuit. Brown was reprimanded again in 2016 for his representation of former Washington County Sheriff Donald Smith in an unemployment compensation case related to the disputed dismissal of a county employee, according to council records.

MCILS has a troubled history of contracting with attorneys with histories of malpractice or criminal convictions, according to a 2020 investigation published by The Maine Monitor and ProPublica. Lawyers under contract with the commission during its first decade of operation between 2010 and 2020 have been disproportionately sanctioned for professional misconduct. Commission attorneys made up about 15% of practicing attorneys in Maine, but they accounted for 26% of attorneys disbarred, suspended or reprimanded over the past decade, according to a news organization analysis.

Andrus has opened dozens of investigations into attorneys under contract with MCILS since he was named the new director in January 2021, according to monthly agency reports. He stopped a few lawyers from accepting cases in light of new criminal charges or from failing to comply with his investigations, the Monitor reported.

Throughout this time, MCILS has seen a dwindling number of defense attorneys willing to take on new cases for indigent Maine defendants, The Maine Monitor reported.

A voicemail message seeking comment from Brown on Thursday was not returned Thursday. In response to information the Board of Supervisors filed with the court, Brown admitted that he did not have the continuing education credits required to maintain his law license in February 2020 and enrolled in several courses this month. there, according to the records filed in the case. . He acknowledged that he did not participate in the live classes and claimed that he watched them later in the day, records show.

“…the court does not believe that Brown attended the classes live, either in real time or after the fact. The court simply does not accept this defense,” McKeon wrote in an earlier decision in the case.

Maine attorneys are required to register annually with the Board of Supervisors and show that they have completed at least 12 credit hours of continuing legal education in the previous year. Failure to do so may result in an administrative suspension, during which time the lawyer cannot practice law.

Some of these hours of training can be done in self-study, but at least seven hours must be done in the form of “live” lessons.

Brown said during his hearing that he was unaware at the time that the rules required him to attend live classes when they were scheduled. He said he had reviewed the rules since the investigation began.

A paralegal, who previously worked at Brown’s law firm, told the board of supervisors that she completed mandatory legal education courses on Brown’s behalf in 2020, according to board records and testimony at a disciplinary hearing in July. Text messages exchanged between Brown and the paralegal show Brown was expected to be in court on the days he signed up for the live classes.

In light of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Supervisory Board then extended the deadline to complete classes until April. Brown took three live classes before the new deadline, according to the ruling.

The board of supervisors also sought sanctions against Brown because of a sexual relationship he had with a client.

Brown admitted in court filings that he was in a long-term sexual relationship with a woman he later represented in an abuse protection and divorce case. Brown sometimes lived with the client and her child and employed her in his law firm, according to counsel’s records and testimony in court. Brown later stepped down as a lawyer when a magistrate raised concerns about the ethics of their relationship, records show.

McKeon decided that Brown’s personal interests conflicted with his portrayal of the woman and that he should have obtained her informed consent in writing.

“Given Brown’s emphatic testimony that there was no way his private interests could interfere, the court finds that he could not have orally informed his client of the real risks involved in his continued representation,” McKeon wrote in a statement. previous decision.

Brown received a reprimand for his conduct.

Samantha Hogan covers government accountability and the criminal justice system for The Maine Monitor. Contact her with other story ideas via email: [email protected]

This story was originally posted by The Maine Monitor. The Maine Monitor is a local journalism product published by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, a nonpartisan, nonprofit civic news organization.