LEWISTON — A judge has ordered that the license of an Auburn lawyer who ran unsuccessfully for district attorney be suspended for three years.

Superior Court Justice Thomas Warren issued his order Thursday, writing that disbarment should be reserved for “exceptionally egregious” cases.

Lawyers representing the Board of Overseers of the Bar had argued last month that Seth Carey, 43, be disbarred for several bar violations, which were confirmed by Warren.

Among the violations were sexual assault, witness tampering and failing to comply with a previous interim suspension order. 

Although Warren agreed that disbarment would have been appropriate in this case, he added that Carey had acknowledged that mental illness likely played a role in his behavior and that he needed medication and therapy to address his debilitating condition.

Carey has been barred from practicing law in Maine since April, months before his unsuccessful bid for district attorney of Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties.

Carey’s attorney, James Howaniec, said in a statement Wednesday that he and Carey are assessing whether to file an appeal with the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, and expect to make a decision within the next week. 

“Justice Warren’s decision is strict, but we are at least happy that he did not order disbarment,” Howaniec said. “The court recognized that Seth acknowledged his mental health issues. Seth has many positive attributes and we believe strongly that he can be a successful lawyer with the proper mental health treatment. Seth acknowledged that he has made some mistakes in judgment but continues to adamantly deny the allegations of misconduct made by the woman who was living at his residence for more than a year.” 

At a Nov. 14 hearing in Cumberland County Court in Portland, bar prosecutor Aria Eee argued that Carey had numerous chances to prove his competence and get the help he’d agreed he needed during earlier license suspensions, but he had continued to violate bar rules. She said new violations, including sexual misconduct and witness tampering, should trigger loss of license for at least a five-year period after which he could petition the bar for reinstatement.

Howaniec argued his client needed treatment for mental illness, but that his actions hadn’t warranted the “nuclear option” of disbarment. He cited instances in which licensed Maine lawyers had been merely suspended, not disbarred, for more egregious behavior.

In Warren’s Dec. 20 order on sanctions, he said, “Carey has for the first time acknowledged that he has a problem and should be given an opportunity to address it.” 

In September, Warren ruled in an 18-page order that Carey had violated several bar rules, including unlawful conduct stemming from his unwanted sexual advances involving a woman who lived at his Rumford home and his effort to pay for her silence about the matter. Carey also had engaged in law practice and had written checks on his professional account after his April suspension, which prohibited those actions.

Warren’s decision came a month after a three-day hearing in August at which the Maine Board of Overseers pressed its case that Carey had violated at least four bar rules.

The board’s attorneys presented evidence and witnesses, including a woman who claimed Carey, her landlord at his house in Rumford, had made persistent, unwanted sexual advances and evicted her because she repeatedly rebuffed him and, one time, recorded the wrong basketball game for him.

Seeking a protection-from-abuse order against Carey, his former tenant took him to court in April. At the end of a four-hour hearing, she was granted the order after a judge found by a preponderance of evidence that Carey had engaged in unlawful sexual touching and domestic violence assault. Carey had represented himself at that hearing, a decision he later said he regretted.

In the Dec. 20 order, Warren said that “groping a female tenant on one occasion and pulling her head against his crotch on another occasion reflected adversely on Carey’s trustworthiness and fitness as a lawyer,” but, he argued, Carey’s conduct, while serious, does not fall in the most serious range because it did not involve dishonesty or fraud and did not arise from a lawyer-client relationship. 

Warren also added that “the woman in question was able to rebuff all of Carey’s unwanted advances, she was not highly vulnerable to sexual exploitation, and there is no evidence that she suffered psychological injury as a result of Carey’s conduct.” 

Howaniec told Warren in November that Carey likely wouldn’t be fighting to save his law license had he opted to enter into a no-contact agreement with his former tenant in March. He also noted that Carey was never charged with a crime in those incidents.

Deputy Bar Counsel Eee told Warren earlier this month that Carey had been suspended three times since passing the bar and had failed to comply with the required conditions or continued to commit new violations, or both.

She pointed to a pattern of behavior engaged in by Carey, even while his license was under suspension.

Warren described Carey’s attempt to tamper with a witness as “the most serious of the multiple acts of misconduct at issue in this proceeding,” saying that it constituted both a violation of his duty to the public and to the legal system. 

Carey was issued a two-year suspension in 2016, during which he was monitored by two Twin Cities attorneys and entered into a contract to comply with various conditions, including psychological counseling and psychiatric consultation, so that he could continue to practice law.

During the August hearing, Carey said he should be treated for mental health problems, including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and a personality disorder with a narcissistic factor. He said he couldn’t afford the treatment because his law license had been suspended.

Warren’s Dec. 20 order states that the three-year suspension is based on “the seriousness of the violations, the prior disciplinary sanctions, and the amount of time that will be necessary for Carey to address and overcome his current personality disorder if he is able to do so.” 

Among a list of 10 conditions included in the three-year suspension is that Carey must undergo treatment, including individual or group psychotherapy, and provide treatment records to bar counsel. 

Seth Carey (Sun Journal file photo)


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