December 2023 Millar’s JurisDiction - Double or Nothing

by Richard W. Millar, Jr.

Mandatory continuing legal education, for good or ill, is here to stay. Predictably, once it started to be required, a cottage industry of “providers” arose from seemingly nowhere and are now ubiquitous. The subject matter is continually expanding to cover what might, in the “old days,” have been called sociology, but which is now shoehorned into legal education.

I am not against continuing education as, whatever our fields, we all need to keep up or be reminded. But, its utility is overrated. It does not really protect the public, which is the auspices underlying its compulsion. Would anyone really argue that a once famous, now infamous, California lawyer would not have stolen amounts from his trust account that resemble an emerging nation’s budget, if he had taken another hour of ethics?

And then there is the question of how many hours should be required. The answer is completely subjective. Is twenty-five hours every three years enough? Is it too much? Would thirty be better or would that be worse?

My view, for which you will not receive MCLE credit for reading, is that those who wish to keep learning will, and those who don’t, won’t.

But, sometimes you have to give credit for imagination in evasion—which brings me to the Supreme Judicial Court of Maine, a state which as best I can recall, has not previously whelped column material.

And, also to one Jason E. Buckley who ran afoul of Maine’s continuing legal education requirements.

Mr. Buckley was admitted to the Maine Bar in 2007 and was active until 2020 when he was “administratively suspended,” whatever that means. In the process of reinstating his license in 2023, he had to submit proof of his continuing legal education requirements to the Board of Overseers. One of those items was a live webcast that lasted 4:40 hours. Another was an “on-demand” product that took 6:39 hours, which is probably about 5:39 hours longer than I would have lasted.

The bar folks, whom I am assuming were the “Overseers,” did not quibble with the fact that these were long programs, nor did they take umbrage at their subject matters. Indeed, the subjects, whatever they were, have not been disclosed.

The problem was that he took them both at the same time.

It was, in other words, a twofer.

Mr. Buckley said that he watched one on his computer and one on his iPad and “that he did not realize that attending multiple CLEs simultaneously was a violation of the Bar Rules and that if he had known as much, he would not have done so.”

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court’s Opinion compared Mr. Buckley’s case to a prior recent Maine case where an attorney named Donald Brown was suspended for having his legal assistant take continuing education courses in his name by using his login credentials which, to my way of thinking, presents a different problem.

In any event, Mr. Buckley’s problem insofar as the court was concerned was that he did not acknowledge fault. “[H]e qualified any acceptance of responsibility by stating that he did not know he was not allowed to watch two CLE courses at the same time . . . [and he] did not file an answer to the Information, thus failing to acknowledge fault to this Court.”

The procedural posture of Mr. Buckley’s case was unusual as he was already under an administrative suspension causing the court to conclude, “there is no reason to suspend a suspension in this matter.” That left the court with the only option, apparently, of imposing a suspension longer than six months as that would require Mr. Buckley to apply for readmission to the Bar. It ended up suspending him for one year ‘with none of that period suspended.’”

It goes to show that a double or nothing bet is not confined to card games.

Richard W. Millar, Jr. is Of Counsel with the firm of FSG Lawyers PC in Irvine. He can be reached at rmillar@fsglawyers.com.