Disbarred elsewhere, famed criminal defense attorney F. Lee Bailey may yet realize his goal of returning to the practice of law in the state of Maine if he repays nearly $2 million in back taxes he owes the federal government, according to a recent ruling by a Maine state supreme court justice.
Justice Donald Alexander issued the ruling [PDF] on April 18 stating that Bailey’s tax issues are all that stands in the way of the state’s highest court issuing a certificate declaring the attorney’s "good character and fitness to practice law" in Maine. Alexander issued the ruling while denying Bailey’s appeal of a November decision [PDF] by the Maine Board of Bar Examiners, which voted 5 to 4 to deny the attorney’s bid to practice in the state.
Bailey rose to fame through a series of high-profile criminal defense representations over the course of several decades. His roster of clients included Sam Sheppard, the physician accused of killing his wife whose story became the inspiration for The Fugitive television series and 1993 film, as well as newspaper heiress and kidnapping victim Patty Hearst. Bailey was also a member of the so-called Dream Team of defense attorneys that secured an acquittal for Hall of Fame football player O.J. Simpson in his 1995 murder trial.
In considering Bailey’s eligibility to practice law in light of his outstanding debt, Alexander wrote that "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." Alexander also cited case law establishing that an attorney’s moral character is linked to an ability to satisfy financial obligations. Alexander stayed the entry of his decision until May 10 and said he would reconsider Bailey’s appeal should the attorney offer a plan to pay his taxes.
Bailey, 79, was previously licensed to practice law in Florida and Massachusetts, but was disbarred in Florida in 2001 after being found guilty of attorney misconduct for transferring stock owned by a client into his own accounts and then using the interest that accumulated for personal expenditures. Bailey spent more than a month in federal prison and was forced to pay back millions of dollars in illegally obtained funds. He was subsequently disbarred in Massachusetts in 2003 as a result of the Florida conviction.
According to the Maine Board of Bar Examiners’s November decision, Bailey moved to Maine "at some point between 2009 and 2011" and passed the state’s bar exam in February 2012. The Bangor Daily News reports that Bailey has been working as a consultant with attorneys for Dennis Dechaine, a convicted child killer seeking to exonerate himself in the 1988 murder and kidnapping of a 12-year-old in Bowdoin, Maine.
Bailey is represented by Peter DeTroy, of Portland, Maine. DeTroy, who did not respond to The Am Law Daily‘s request for comment, told the Bangor paper that litigation is pending with regard to Bailey’s tax debt. Federal court records show that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit is currently considering Bailey’s appeal of a 2012 U.S. Tax Court ruling ordering him to pay $1.93 million in unpaid taxes and penalties to the Internal Revenue Service.