LEWISTON — The law license of the Republican candidate for district attorney in Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties is under suspension. Depending on the outcome of a sanctions hearing later this month, he could be disbarred.

So, what would happen if he were to win Tuesday’s election?

Could he be sworn into office if he were unable to work as an attorney? If not, then who would assume that post?

The answer is not simple. Nor is it certain, according to state officials.

Seth Carey of Auburn won a June primary even though his license to practice law in Maine had been suspended since April stemming from a protection from abuse order issued a month earlier. A woman living in his Rumford home claimed he made repeated unwanted sexual advances. Carey has denied those claims.

Even before that, Carey’s license had been suspended, but he had been allowed to practice law under certain conditions.

Carey’s name will be on Tuesday’s ballot along with incumbent Andrew Robinson, a Democrat, a spokeswoman at the Secretary of State’s Office said.

A Superior Court justice ruled in September that Carey had violated several Maine Bar rules, including unlawful conduct stemming from the incidents that led to the March protection from abuse order. That justice’s decision came a month after a three-day hearing on a complaint brought by the Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar. A hearing on the sanctions that the judge should impose for those rule violations is slated for Nov. 14.

If Thomas Warren, the single Superior Court justice presiding over Carey’s case, should disbar or suspend Carey, he could appeal that decision to the full seven-member Maine Supreme Judicial Court. There’s no telling when Warren might issue his order on sanctions, and a hearing on Carey’s likely appeal might not happen for months afterward, according to a clerk at the high court.

Although Carey has made the argument that he could be sworn into office despite being barred from practicing law, Warren wrote in his September decision: “That is difficult to accept, to say the least. If Carey were to make prosecutorial decisions, set policy and supervise lawyers in the district attorney’s office, he would be practicing law whether or not he ever appeared in court.”

Ordinarily, the governor would swear into office on Jan. 1 the candidate who won Tuesday’s election for district attorney. That governor is expected to be Paul LePage, whose successor as governor is due to be sworn into office the following day, according to Maine’s Constitution.

But, what if that person who was elected as district attorney is not licensed to practice law because of a suspension or, worse, disbarment?

Asked that question, the Secretary of State’s Office demurred, saying it would have to consult with the Attorney General’s Office as to how to proceed because “there is no precedent for this specific situation,” Communications Director Kristin Muszynski said. The Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar referred the same question to the Attorney General’s Office.

When asked Friday, Melissa O’Neal, a spokeswoman for Maine’s attorney general, said her office “has no comment on this matter at this time.” She said to check back after the election.

According to the Secretary of State’s Office ballot access guide, a candidate for the office of district attorney must be an attorney, admitted to the general practice of law in Maine. Carey was an attorney who passed the Maine bar but was later suspended.

State law says that when “no person is elected or a vacancy happens in the office of district attorney … the governor shall appoint a competent attorney” who lives in that district “to serve as a substitute attorney until the first day of January following the next biennial election.”

If the elected attorney had been nominated at a party primary, the governor must appoint a substitute attorney from that same political party. “The governor shall choose from any recommendations submitted by the county committee or committees of the political party from which the appointment is to be made,” the law says. In this case, three counties would be submitting recommendations.

Carey defeated in the June primary Republican Alexander Willette of Lewiston, an assistant district attorney in Sagadahoc County.

At the next biennial election, in 2020, voters would elect a district attorney to serve until the end of the unexpired term, which would be in 2022, according to state law.


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