The DA's race: Seth Carey

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Controversial candidate says helping the underdog is behind his desire to be DA.

On the Nov. 6 ballot, he’s S. Thomas Carey, champion of the little guy.

But until this year’s campaign, he’s always gone by Seth Carey, a colorful Rumford native with a love of sports, 1980s rock ‘n’ roll and, sometimes, the law.

An attorney best-known for unsuccessfully suing the National Football League over lost “Deflategate” draft picks, he’s also been reprimanded by his colleagues in the law more times than he’d like.

Now he’s adopted a new identity as he runs for the region’s district attorney seat with a suspended law license, his future again in the hands of courts, hoping that a new name and his appeal as a maverick will win him the DA’s seat.

The new name was prompted by Carey’s decision to enter the political arena earlier this year, but it was helped by allegations of sexual assault made against him by a woman last spring, and by numerous unprofessional incidents that have been publicly reported and repeated during his career.

“I wanted a fresh start,” Carey said. “My name has been sullied by haters’ false accusations and reporting,” including many stories in the Sun Journal that detailed his legal woes, he said.

Republican primary voters proved surprisingly ready to offer Carey that fresh start in his race for DA of Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties this past summer. Carey’s victory in the June primary was one of the more unexpected political moments, most observers agree.

Carey said he hoped he could squeak out a win by tying himself tightly to President Donald Trump and his proposed wall on the Mexican border.

Instead, Carey rolled to a surprisingly solid win, opening the door to the possibility he can knock out Robinson.

Carey realizes he faces challenges. He has no experience as a prosecutor, his legal career is checkered and he may not be allowed to serve as DA even if he wins. The reason: You must be a lawyer to serve as DA. Not only is Carey’s license currently suspended, but Maine’s law court has yet to decide the punishment, if any, for his most recent transgressions. (See related story.) 

At one court hearing earlier this year, holding back tears, Carey said he needs the health insurance that comes with the four-year DA position so he can get mental health services. But he recently scoffed at the notion that medical insurance had much to do with his bid for public office.

Carey said his real motivation is what it has always been: a desire to boost the little guy and support the underdog.

“That’s what I’m all about,” he insisted, promising to put justice first as “the people’s DA.”

CHILDHOOD IN RUMFORD

Carey describes himself as a lonely boy growing up  “watching PBS and reading books” at his family’s isolated farm in Horseshoe Valley, not too far from the town of Rumford where his father, Thomas Carey, practiced law.

Seth Carey said his father drove him to school each morning and the boy took a taxi home, because it wasn’t worth sending a bus to take him home, because no other children lived nearby.

About the time Carey reached third grade, his parents moved into Rumford, opening a new world he found “amazing, really. It was awesome. … That’s when kids went outside and did things,” he said, before their current-day obsession with staring at screens.

With other children readily at hand, including two sisters, Carey said he played kickball in the streets, wiffle ball “for hours and hours and hours,” and skated in a homemade rink. In those years, he said, sports was everything.

By the time he reached Mountain Valley High School in Rumford, Carey’s family had moved again to a house on Isthmus Road, a bit outside town, and Carey had become a self-described prankster.

He said a soccer coach required players to join the school choir — something he thought was utterly lame — but he discovered he loved it.

“I’ve been singing ever since,” Carey said, insisting he knows nearly every rock song of the era. He remembers buying his first single, “Jump” by Van Halen, and once started a 1980s-type rock ‘n’ roll band in Florida.

Getting into choir spurred him to participate in musicals and plays, he said, including “The Music Man,” one of his favorites, the tale of a lovable flim-flam man who tries to scam an Iowa town.

Carey said he mostly hung around with nerds, but was himself “a slacker, lazy and undisciplined,” struggling to get out of bed on cold winter mornings. Sometimes he’d miss the bus and have to head to school on a snowmobile.

Though classwork had always been pretty easy for him, his refusal to keep up with the assignments eventually caught up with him. “You can’t do calculus by just winging it,” Carey said.

Before graduation in 1993, he said, his classmates voted him the most likely to become president, Carey said, “because I was the only one who was really interested in politics,” spurred in part by Texas billionaire Ross Perot’s quixotic presidential run in 1992. 

Carey said his parents weren’t especially political, though they were active in the community, devoted to recycling and insistent that he think for himself. He said one of the lessons they taught him was to serve as “a good steward of the Earth,” partly because of his parents’ love of gardening.

LEAVING HOME

Carey attended Clemson University after high school, because it had an amazing campus and great teams. It also cost the same as the University of Maine, he said. His memories there consist largely of eating too much and sports.

After graduation in 1997, Carey said he wanted to travel so he decided to head to Hawaii, which seemed exotic but didn’t involve everyone talking another language. At first, he worked at summer camp, then lived in a cabin with no running water and later on an Oahu beach while he worked delivering septic tanks.

When he came home for the holidays, he decided to stay, snagging a bartending job at Sunday River Ski Resort in Newry that brought in enough cash to make it possible for him to go to Europe with a friend when the weather turned decent.

After his pal met a girl over there, Carey said, he bought an old Opal station wagon for $300 and traveled around solo on the cheap. He slept in the car as he visited Rome, Paris and more.

The Opal’s radio didn’t work, he said, so he listened to a handful of pirated tapes over and over on a portable player that included Van Halen’s worst album. He enjoyed it, anyway.

That summer Carey ran with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, “just to say I did it.” He said he was “pretty scared” but emerged without a scratch.

A ‘STREET FIGHTER’ IN COURT

That fall, Carey began taking classes at Vermont Law School, a typical path for a political science major with no firm ambition.

“It was just a natural progression,” Carey said. “It seemed like a dignified career where I could do well and support a family.”

Carey said law school was “very hard,” but he put in the time to learn the sometimes obscure cases and language of the law.

He later went to Florida State University to add a master’s degree in sports administration, hoping to become a sports agent. It didn’t work out well, he said, because it is “a slimy business” that he couldn’t stomach.

So he returned to Maine and began working in Lewiston as a regional director for Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Baldacci’ 2002 campaign. He knew Baldacci because he’d interned for him on Capitol Hill during college.

Carey said he put up a lot of signs, organized phone banks and other campaign work, but his hope that it might lead to a job in Augusta proved futile. At that point, he returned to Rumford and began working as a paralegal for his well-respected father while he studied for the bar.

Carey ultimately opened his own practice in Rumford, doing a little bit of everything like many small-town attorneys. To make living, he said, “you have to cast a wide net.”

Carey said he enjoys the sparring that comes with legal cases. He compared himself to “a street fighter. I’ll fight to the death.”

As a result, he said, he’s far more assertive than many attorneys.

“I’ve had some run-ins with judges because I’m fighting so hard,” he said. Some of those cases have led to restrictions on his right to practice.

He moved to Auburn this year after, he says, accusations of sexual assault forced him out of his home in Rumford and cost him his license to work as an attorney. He has been living in his Court Street campaign office.

A psychologist who performed a psychological evaluation of Carey last summer, Nadir Behrem, told a court that Carey has a personality disorder that makes it tough for him to accept answers he doesn’t like. He’s also prone to “suspiciousness and holding grudges,” Behrem said.

In addition, the psychologist said, there is “quite a bit of evidence of grandiosity” in Carey that causes him to believe he possesses some “special beliefs or skills that others don’t recognize.”

Carey called Behrem’s analysis “relatively fair.” He said he might benefit from treatment, but it hasn’t  helped in the past and he’s concerned that drugs might dumb him down or make him less sharp.

“Counseling’s never worked for me,” he said.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

Carey said that if he doesn’t end up as district attorney, he’s interested in pursuing a number of business opportunities and perhaps more.

“They’re never going to break me,” he said.

He said his entrepreneurial streak, which showed itself long ago when he used to buy and sell baseball cards, runs strong.

Carey said he’s interested in settling down once he’s finally “established and successful.”

So far, though, “I haven’t met the right person who would put up with my eccentricities.”

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Seth Carey takes a break from painting campaign signs to talk to the Sun Journal outside his office on Court Street in Auburn. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

Seth Carey with his grandfather, Ted Carey. (Photo provided) 

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