AUGUSTA — Lewiston lawyer William B. Cote has been suspended from the practice of law because of substance abuse issues, according to information released Thursday by the Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar.

Cote was temporarily suspended Tuesday, according to the organization that governs the conduct of lawyers licensed to practice in Maine.

This is the second time Cote has left the practice because of addiction to drugs or alcohol. The first time, in 1988, Cote resigned from the bar and relinquished his license. His license was reinstated in 1992.

This week’s Interim Order of Suspension, signed by Maine Supreme Judicial Court Justice Joseph Jabar, said Cote “appears to be incapacitated by reasons of addiction to drugs or intoxicants. As a result, he has committed violations of the Maine Rule of Professional Conduct, thereby serving as a threat to his clients, members of the public and to the administration of justice.”

Cote, a solo practitioner, may apply for reinstatement after he “undergoes successful treatment” and is actively compliant with a contract with the Maine Assistance Program for Lawyers and Judges.

The MAP program was created in 2002 by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to address confidentially the issue of lawyer or judge impairment from the effects of chemical dependency or mental conditions that result from disease, disorder, trauma or other infirmities that lessen their ability to practice or serve.

Jabar also ordered that a proxy be appointed to manage Cote’s law office in Lewiston so that “his clients’ interests will be protected.”

The affidavit and exhibits that led to the suspension have been sealed, according to the Board of Overseers.

In 1991, three years after Cote relinquished his license, the board held three hearings to consider his application for reinstatement to the bar.

During the course of those hearings, several colleagues who had participated in the Bar Association Substance Abuse Committee as lawyers in recovery themselves, testified in support of Cote’s reinstatement. In considering that testimony, the Board of Overseers noted in its report that “there are today in Maine successful attorneys who are in recovery” and that these recovering attorneys are “willing and able to participate in programs to assist others” without compromising the confidentiality of clients.

At the time, the board also found that Cote had a supportive circle of friends and colleagues to aid him in his return to practice, and that his sponsor and treating physician’s testimony supported a finding that “Cote is an excellent prospect for continued recovery.”

In ordering the reinstatement of Cote’s license in January 1992, the board recommended that the court direct the Overseers of the Bar to establish a program to enable recovering attorneys. That program would be staffed by lawyers who volunteered to support and supervise Cote and others.

Cote was also ordered to file monthly or quarterly affidavits noting the details and dates of his attendance at support groups and that he undergo substance-abuse counseling.

All of the board’s recommendations focused on supervision of Cote’s personal life, having found that no court supervision of his law practice or his relationship with clients was warranted.

Cote, a graduate of the University of Maine Law School, was admitted to the Maine State Bar Association in 1983 and served on its board in 2005. In 2008, he was appointed to the Board of Governors of the Maine State Bar Association.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: