Dale Thistle, a former Newport lawyer, was sentenced Friday at the Penobscot Judicial Center. Thistle was convicted of stealing $290,000 from a client’s estate a decade ago. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

A former Newport lawyer convicted of stealing $290,000 from a client’s estate 10 years ago was sentenced Friday to six years in prison with all but two years suspended.

A jury found Dale Thistle, 75, of Farmington and Quebec City, Quebec, guilty in June after a two-day trial of one count of theft by misapplication, a Class B crime due to the amount of money involved.

That conviction has been appealed to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

“It’s hard for me to believe that Mr. Thistle, having been a lawyer for as long as he was, did not know that taking the money was wrong and illegal,” Superior Court Justice William Anderson said in imposing the sentence at the Penobscot Judicial Center.

An aggravating factor in the case — one that would lengthen the sentence — is that as an attorney, Thistle was in a position of trust, Anderson said. The judge said that mitigating circumstances — which shorten a sentence — include Thistle’s age and his serious medical conditions, including a traumatic brain injury.

Anderson ordered that Thistle remain on $1,000 bail while his appeal is pending. Bail conditions prevent him from leaving the state. Thistle can’t return to Canada since he is a convicted felon but Anderson ordered him to surrender his passport.

Thistle apologized to his victim’s family, several of whom were in the courtroom.

“It’s shameful and embarrassing to stand before you,” he said, facing the family members. “I wish that things had been different. I wish that you’d gotten all that you deserve. I wish that you still had your father. If I can repay you in the future, I will do so.”

Thistle has very little income and has been forced to live in poverty while on bail and, due to his bail conditions, has been unable to return to Quebec City to live in a small apartment with his Canadian wife. She continues to live there.

In addition to prison time, Thistle was sentenced to three years of probation and ordered to pay $34,522 to the Lawyers Fund for Client Protection that was paid to the estate and $255,478 to the estate itself. It is highly unlikely that Thistle will be able to repay the entire amount.

The money Thistle was 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.

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.

Under Maine law, Thistle should have turned the settlement money over to Gilman Friend’s estate and his four children.

Tracy Friend-Moore of Freeport, the victim’s daughter, spoke about her father, whom she described as a “wonderful father” who always had time for his children.

“The center of this case to us is Gilman Friend, a lifelong resident and community leader,” she said. “He owned car and motorcycle dealerships and later had a real estate business.”

Moore said that at the time Thistle got his $96,000 portion of the wrongful death settlement, neither she nor any of her siblings had ever made that much money in a year.

Thistle suffered a traumatic brain 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. He has not practiced law since.

Thistle said Friday that “but for my car accident, I wouldn’t have taken the Friend family’s money.”

That was the argument defense attorney Will Ashe made to the jury that it rejected at Thistle’s trial.

An investigation by the board of overseers found that Thistle had misused funds from other clients but he has not been prosecuted in those cases, according to the Maine Attorney General’s office.

Assistant Attorney General Charles Boyle recommended the judge sentence Thistle to seven years in prison with all but three years suspended, followed by three years of probation. Ashe urged Anderson to impose a sentence of five years with all but six months suspended, which could be served in a county jail, and a period of probation.

Thistle faced up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $20,000.