Justice Donald Alexander’s decision in the Gary Prolman Overseers of the Maine Bar case suggests to many “civilians” that oversight of Maine lawyers is in free fall. Can lawyers do almost anything with no consequences? The Alexander decision is so far removed from public opinion and public common sense as to create widespread public disgust and distrust. In one fell swoop, Alexander gives himself, the Maine Bar and the Judiciary a very “black eye”. His decision also raises very worrying questions about the law, lawyers, the judiciary and Maine’s drug problem.
MeGAL to the Maine Bar:
Stephen Nelson, Esq
President Maine Bar Association
Dear Mr Nelson:
I am writing to you as president of the Maine Bar Association to express deep concern about Justice Donald Alexander’s recent “absolution” of the “sins” of attorney Gary Prolman of Saco, (late of the federal penitentiary). The Alexander decision has raised much questioning about the oversight standards for lawyers amongst those members of the public. Others have read the actual 25 page decision itself, replete with gory details. Without exception, those with whom I have spoken are aghast at the decision. The detailed report of Prolman’s unsavory, unethical, illegal activities that are well documented in the body of the Alexander decision, are challenging in the extreme to any public faith in Alexander, the Bar or Maine courts. We ask: is “oversight” of lawyers in free fall? On the topic of oversight, Justice Alexander appears to scorn public opinion. Many non-lawyers (and many silent lawyers) will read several, perhaps unintended, messages from Alexander’s decision: (a) that Prolman must be a gigantic political powerhouse within the profession with an intimidatingly large, lawyerly base of support, and (b) the consequences of not restoring his license might lead to an even more frightening problem for the Court: the opening wide of a window on the drug culture of Maine’s legal professionals at all levels. Better to keep Mr Prolman licensed and on the “bar team” than suffer the potential consequences of his enmity and that of his “friends”.
In his decision, Justice Alexander’s reasoning and use of the law seem to readers without a legal background like an abuse of the tools of the law. To many of us Alexander appears to minimize Prolman’s illegal and unethical activities. His decision focuses on 2012 when Prolman’s house of cards started to collapse, as the “feds” entered the picture. Alexander passes quickly over the lengthy chronicity of the drug and alcohol problems and other associated unethical and illegal actions. And he “absolves” Prolman of his “sins”, restoring his license, because he is perceived as repentant. How else would he present and how does Alexander know that the “leopard has changed his spots”? It is more like the actions of a priest hearing confession than a Maine Supreme Court Justice reviewing “oversight” actions of the Overseers. The reasoning is legalistic, but utterly confusing. Non-lawyers sense a legal “shell game” is being played on them.
There are many examples of Alexander’s reasoning that seem inadequate. The decision claims that Prolman’s self-admitted, extensive drug and alcohol use ONLY affected his business judgement. “That there is NO evidence that his drug and alcohol use affected his law practice or his relationship with clients.” This ungrounded opinion demonstrates, a “junk science” theory of brain function. Prolman’s frontal lobes, while “under the influence”, were apparently uniquely able to segregate “bad judgement” and “normal judgement” into two separate, airtight compartments, a bad one for business, and the other compartment, a normal one for his practice and his clients. It is “junk science” in the service of rationalizing an irrational decision. With all respect, how does Alexander know that Prolman’s practice was unaffected? Has he measured (or sought to have measured) the “half-life”, or morning after effect, of alcohol or drugs on professional mental functions? What is the actual cognitive impairment factor, or does he believe Prolman immune to this usual sort of impairment? AA or NA or clinical psychiatry, all experts in addictive illnesses, would point to permanent structural changes in the brain’s micro anatomy that always accompany chronic substance abuse. These change translate into actual functions. What happens to judgement, to intellectual functioning, to memory, to ability to calculated, to mood, to irritability? Answer: “not good things”. Or … if not blind drunk or drugged, can an addicted lawyer just get by with clients, with “fake it till you make it”? More to the point, is that an acceptable public standard? There is a need to remember the inconvenient fact that addictions are never truly cured. They may go into remission for varying periods, but a “slip” or a fall off the wagon or full recurrence are common. Professionals would say it is the very nature of the higher risks associated with these conditions. Alexander’s decision seems to ignore the professional science of addictions.
The conclusion that “reinstatement was in the public interest” is another unsubstantiated personal belief in Alexander’s decision. Why is reinstatement in the pubic interest? How has Alexander arrived at this risk-laden conclusion? Mention is made of many letters supportive of Prolman from attorneys (and judges?). In this complex case with layers of intrigue and many twists and turns, one has to ask: who were the lawyers who wrote such letters? What was their relationship with Prolman? Many who read this statement wonder: Were those endorsing him “birds of a feather”? Did they fear that a Prolman without a law license might shine a spotlight on unbecoming actions of others in the profession? How many top shelf lawyers would consider writing a reference for this man? Members of the public can sense enough to know a whitewash job when they see it, and this case seems to requires a shipload of whitewash. The “public interest” in restoring his license, to us, implies that legal skills of any kind are in such short supply that Prolman’s skills badly needed. We’d ask further: Is there any residual damage to his brain functioning, due to toxic death of frontal lobe brain cells from chronic alcohol and drug use? As one example, would he still be able to pass Maine Bar exams? Do those attorneys, who strongly disagreed with Alexander’s decision, support relicensing Prolman, or would they demand “witness protection” in return for their testimony? Even Scott Davis, counsel for the Overseers, backed off of an appeal. “The conclusions were not clearly erroneous; consequently, no good basis for appeal” has been quoted by various news agencies. “Conclusions not clearly erroneous.” Really? The Bar just fell in line. But the pubic remains unconvinced.
The Maine Bar earns a giant public credibility problem with this case. This judgement is a terrible advertisement for the functional integrity of bar oversight of its members. However adroitly the law is used to rationalize an admittedly very awkward decision, it isn’t convincing to the public, and it adds to public cynicism and loss of faith in the legal profession. It is about damage to public trust that the profession is policing itself “in the public’s interest”. We suggest that building and maintaining public confidence in lawyers requires a system of true quality assurance. This is not an academic consideration. The legal profession, more than any profession is central to law enforcement and to whether we can all work together, as citizens, to eradicate the drug epidemic that so besets our state and our country. As leaders, the legal profession needs to face the drug culture within the profession and move to correct it, honestly, courageously, or the “infection” will continue to spread in pervasively damaging ways both to the profession and to society. We propose a state government commission that would assess the scope of the drug problem in the legal profession, which is so strategically placed by its nature to influence the systemic drug problem in Maine for better or worse.. Many would gladly support enabling legislation for this project.
Addiction is not something that can be turned on or off. It does not just appear as is suggested by Justice Alexander. Addiction and the abuse of drugs and alcohol is something that grips your life in all areas. Did Justice Alexander make the right decision? MeGAL encourages you to research all aspects of addiction and how it may affect your lawyer, GAL and judge. We would also encourage you to become involved in the process of Judicial reform/ change by talking with your Representative. We can be contacted at MeGALalert@gmail.com or finding us on Facebook.
Further resources regarding the addiction of lawyers:
2014-01-07 17 Statistics on Drug Abuse Among Lawyers
2015-07-23 Lawyers struggle with mental health and substance abuse problems at a heightened rate
2016-02-04 High Rate of Problem Drinking Reported Among Lawyers
2016-07-12 ‘I Could No Longer Live with Myself’: Lawyers Reveal Their Struggles with Alcohol ( to read the whole article you will have to create an account)