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AG Candidate Addresses Past Lapse In Attorney License Status

October 24, 2008     Reported By: A.J. Higgins

With less than two weeks to go until Election Day, candidates for the Maine Legislature are actively courting voters. But behind the scenes, the candidates themselves are being courted by three legislators who are vying to become Maine's next Attorney General. Maine is the only state that elects its Attorney General by a popular vote of the Legislature. In the first of a two-part series on the contest, A.J. Higgins reports that one of the leading candidates for the job has not held an active license to practice law in Maine for five of the last seven years.

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Sean Faircloth has been a member of the Maine House or Senate for five terms, a former assistant attorney general and a founder of the Maine Discovery Museum in Bangor. Now, as he stages a bid to become Maine's next attorney general, he admits that one of the things he hasn't been, until recently, is an actively licensed lawyer in Maine – and that’s something that’s required to be an Attorney General. Faircloth concedes that his license to practice law in Maine has probably been inactive for five of the last seven years. “I’m not sure of the exact number but I’m not arguing with that number.”

So how does a Democratic lawmaker from Bangor with a law degree go from contemplating life with a lapsed license to wanting to become the top lawyer in Maine? Faircloth maintains that while he was teaching law classes at two of the University of Maine campuses or spearheading the effort to get the Maine Discovery Museum off the ground, it didn't make sense financially for him to meet the annual educational requirements and fees associated with maintaining an active law license required to practice in Maine. Staffers at the Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar confirmed that an active license is $192 a year while an inactive fee is set at $92. The staff added that 11 hours of continuing legal education costs associated with license renewals runs between $99 and $350, depending on the location.

“Oh. I’m not saying that it was exorbitant. I think it’s an entirely appropriate fee. I don’t have anything (to say) that’s negative; I think it’s entirely appropriate.” Faircloth insisted that his willingness to give up his right to practice law in Maine for at least five of the last seven years was in no way a reflection of his dedication to the law as he seeks the constitutional office position of Maine Attorney General. “Everyone that I know of that’s discussed this position with me knows my dedication to the justice system and if you look at my record, for 20 years I have been actively involved in improving the justice system.”

“I think that the Legislature has an obligation to elect a more qualified member.”  Josh Tardy is a practicing Maine attorney who also serves as House Republican Leader in the Legislature. He points out that Maine is the only state in the nation that elects its attorney general by a popular vote of the Legislature. And if Democrats continue to hold a majority in the house, they will be in a position to elect the next attorney general. Tardy says Representative John Brautigam or Representative Janet Mills who are both seeking the attorney general post would be better choices. Both are longtime, active attorneys who say they have never allowed their Maine law license to go into inactive status. “His (Faircloth’s) qualifications, compared to other members of the caucus who have at least expressed to me that they are running, are clearly not up to par with Representatives Brautigam or Mills.

But Kennebec County District Attorney Everett Fowle disagrees.  A supporter of Faircloth’s, Fowle says he was not aware that the AG candidate’s law license had lapsed. But Fowle says administrative experience in an office of 100 attorneys is equally as important as experience in the courtroom. “I think if they knew Sean they wouldn’t question his dedication to the law because he’s been intimately involved in the law as a legislator during this time.”

Faircloth argues that his legislative record and former position as an assistant attorney general qualify him for the attorney general post. “If you were to go through the pieces of legislation I’ve been involved with, the numerous cases I handled as a child protective attorney, I think my dedication to the highest ideals of the justice system -- and to getting results for the highest ideals of the justices system -- are pretty well documented.”

Next week in the second part of our report, we'll hear all three candidates for the attorney general's post outline their reasons for seeking the office.


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