A Penobscot County jury on Friday found a former Newport attorney guilty of stealing $290,000 from a client’s estate 10 years ago, dismissing his claim that a head injury prevented him from form the intent to break the law.
Dale Thistle, 74, of Quebec City, Quebec, was convicted of one count of theft by misapplication, a Class B felony due to the amount of money involved.
This crime carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $20,000. Thistle should also be ordered to pay compensation.
Superior Court Judge William Anderson did not set a sentencing date. Thistle will remain free on $1,000 cash bond until he is sentenced, but must remain in Maine.
The jury deliberated for about an hour after hearing two days of testimony, according to Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin, who prosecuted the case.
“When a lawyer embezzles $290,000 from a client’s settlement for his own use, it’s not just an ethical violation — it’s theft,” Robbin said after the verdict. “We are pleased that the jury held Dale Thistle accountable for his rule-breaking.”
Ellsworth defense attorney Will Ashe said his client was disappointed with the verdict.
“Dale Thistle was a well-respected attorney before a traumatic brain injury resulted in his disability suspension” from practicing law, Ashe said after the verdict. “We will consider the appellate issues in the Supreme Judicial Court of Maine.”
Thistle suffered a head injury on November 17, 2011, when a drunk driver hit the car Thistle was driving. The impact of that accident led him to neglect his practice and be suspended by the Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar in June 2014, Ashe claimed.
The money Thistle is found guilty of stealing was part of a $390,000 wrongful death settlement intended for the estate of Gilman Friend, who died in December 2010 aged 82 following a fall at his Newport home, according to opening statements in the lawsuit.
Friend’s widow, Donna Friend, hired Thistle to sue Sebasticook Valley Hospital Ambulance Service for wrongful death, and Thistle brokered the settlement. He was entitled to approximately $96,000 in legal fees.
It turned out, however, that Donna Friend was not entitled to the money because she and Gilman Friend had divorced before his death but continued to live together. Her adult children didn’t learn of the divorce until after Donna Friend died in 2014, according to trial testimony.
Thistle should have given the settlement money to the estate of Gilman Friend and his four children, the prosecution alleges.