A Penobscot County jury on Friday found a former Newport lawyer guilty of stealing $290,000 from a client’s estate 10 years ago, rejecting his claim that a head injury prevented him from forming the intent to break the law.
Dale Thistle , 74, of Quebec City, Quebec, was found guilty of one count of theft by misapplication, a Class B crime due to the amount of money involved.
That crime carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence and a fine of up to $20,000. Thistle also is expected to be ordered to pay restitution.
Superior Court Justice William Anderson did not set a sentencing date. Thistle will remain free on $1,000 cash bail until he is sentenced but must remain in Maine.
The jury deliberated for about an hour after hearing two days of testimony, according to Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin, who prosecuted the case.
“When a lawyer diverts $290,000 of a client’s settlement to his own use, that’s not just an ethical violation — it’s theft,” Robbin said after the verdict. “We are pleased that the jury held Dale Thistle accountable for his misappropriation of the settlement.”
Defense attorney Will Ashe of Ellsworth said his client was disappointed by the verdict.
“Dale Thistle was a well-respected attorney before a traumatic brain injury led to his disability suspension” from practicing law, Ashe said after the verdict. “We’ll be looking at issues for appeal to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.”
Thistle suffered a head injury on Nov. 17, 2011, when a drunken driver struck the car Thistle was driving. The impact of that crash caused him to neglect his practice and be suspended by the Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar in June 2014, Ashe claimed.
The money Thistle is convicted of stealing was a portion of a $390,000 wrongful death settlement meant for the estate of Gilman Friend, who died in December 2010 at the age of 82 as the result of a fall at his Newport home, according to opening statements in the trial.
Friend’s widow, Donna Friend, hired Thistle to sue Sebasticook Valley Hospital’s ambulance service for wrongful death, and Thistle negotiated the settlement. He was entitled to about $96,000 in legal fees.
It turned out, however, that Donna Friend was not entitled to the money because she and Gilman Friend had divorced before his death but continued living together. His adult children did not learn of the divorce until after Donna Friend died in 2014, according to trial testimony.
Thistle should have turned the settlement money over to Gilman Friend’s estate and his four children, according to the prosecution.