The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (“Massachusetts SJC”) has affirmed an order transferring an attorney to inactive status for a period of one year, following a determination by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court (“Maine SJC”) that the attorney was unfit to practice law. In the matter of Suzanne T. Dwyer-Jones, the Maine Board of Bar Overseers (“Maine BBO”) alleged that an attorney had substantial mental health and substance abuse problems.
Following an investigation, the Maine BBO filed a petition with the Maine SJC, recommending that the attorney be immediately suspended from practicing law due to her issues. The Maine SJC ordered that the attorney be suspended for one year, and reinstated only upon a showing that she had taken substantial steps towards addressing her mental health and substance abuse issues, and would no longer pose a threat to her clients, or the public.
Massachusetts Bar Counsel was subsequently informed of the suspension, because she was also licensed to practice law in Massachusetts. Bar Counsel then petitioned a single justice of the Massachusetts SJC to transfer the attorney to inactive status for one year, as a result of the Maine SJC’s findings. The attorney opposed the petition on the basis that she was entitled to a separate hearing in Massachusetts. However, the single justice ruled in favor of Bar Counsel. The attorney appealed the decision to the full panel of the Massachusetts SJC.
On appeal, the Court considered several factors, specifically including (1) that Supreme Judicial Court Rule 4:01 requires that attorney disciplinary and disability determinations of neighboring states, be given reciprocal effect in Massachusetts, (2) whether the attorney received a fair trial in Maine, and (3) the amount of deference to be afforded to the Maine SJC’s decision.
The Court reasoned that while Maine’s regulations and proceedings are not identical to those applied in Massachusetts, they were essentially equivalent. Thus, granting reciprocity to the Maine SJC’s order was proper under Rule 4:01. The Court also determined that the attorney was given adequate notice of the proceedings, and a reasonable opportunity to defend herself. Finally, the Court held that the Maine SJC’s decision was informed and well reasoned, and thus nothing would be gained from re-litigating issues, which had already been properly decided. The suspension was thereafter affirmed.
Decision: In re: Dwyer-Jones