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Petition of Jonas

Supreme Court of Maine

March 16, 2017

PETITION OF EDWIN R. JONAS III FOR REINSTATEMENT TO THE BAR OF THE STATE OF MAINE

          Argued: April 5, 2016

          James M. Bowie, Esq. (orally), Thompson & Bowie, LLP, Portland, for appellant Edwin R. Jonas III.

          Aria Eee, Esq. (orally), Board of Overseers of the Bar, Augusta, for appellee Board of Overseers of the Bar.

          Panel: SAUFLEY, C.T., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, JABAR, HJELM, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          SAUFLEY, C.J.

         [¶1] In 2013, Edwin R. Jonas III, who had been admitted to the Maine Bar in 1987, petitioned for reinstatement to the bar from his administrative suspension for failing to register in 1995. A single justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court [Gorman, J.) ultimately denied Jonas's petition for reinstatement. Jonas now appeals to us, in our capacity as the Law Court, [1] challenging the processes employed by the Grievance Commission, the Board of Overseers of the Bar, and the single justice in reviewing his petition for reinstatement. Jonas also challenges the single justice's evidentiary rulings during the de novo hearing on his petition, and the Board's and the single justice's conclusion that he failed to meet his burden to show that he was eligible for reinstatement.

         [¶2] The record reflects that Jonas has engaged in more than two decades of litigation with his ex-wife during which he was suspended from the bars of three states, jailed for contempt, declared a vexatious litigant, and admonished by a federal court for making frivolous arguments. We affirm the single justice's judgment declining to reinstate Jonas to the Maine Bar.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Facts

         [¶3] The single justice's factual findings, reported here, are supported by witness testimony, the parties' exhibits, and findings and judgments contained in the decisions of other courts and disciplinary bodies before whom Jonas was a party. Preliminarily, we note that this matter is complicated by the fact that, following the completion of the proceedings, the applicable Maine Bar Rules were repealed and replaced in their entirety with rules that substantially changed the procedures for reinstatement since Jonas's petition was filed.[2] See generally M. Bar R. (Tower 2015) (effective July 1, 2015). Except as otherwise indicated, all references to the Maine Bar Rules are to the rules that were in effect at the time of Jonas's petition. See generally M. Bar R. (Tower 2014).

         [¶4] Jonas was admitted to the Maine Bar in 1987. Because of his failure to complete an annual registration, see M. Bar R. 6(b)(1), he was administratively suspended from the Maine Bar in 1995.

         [¶5] In 1990, Jonas and his wife, Linda Jonas, were divorced. Since then, Jonas and Linda have been involved in highly contentious post-divorce litigation. In 1995, while the parties were litigating competing post-judgment motions, Linda alleged that Jonas was secretly liquidating assets and hiding the proceeds in accounts in the Cayman Islands, and that he planned to move there with the couple's children. The New Jersey Superior Court ordered Jonas not to transfer any assets valued over $15, 000 and not to remove the children from a five-state area.

         [¶6] In direct violation of the court's order, Jonas obtained a loan of $130, 000 secured by a mortgage on his residence and continued efforts to sell commercial property that he rented out as a 7-Eleven building, eventually deeding the store to his sister and a friend to be held in trust for the children. In addition, Jonas secretly kept $438, 000 in a bank account in the Cayman Islands, and on September 15, 1995, he absconded with his children to the Cayman Islands, where he enrolled them in school.

         [¶7] After Jonas failed to appear at a hearing, the court issued a warrant for Jonas's arrest, placed the children in Linda's custody, and took a number of protective measures designed to ensure that Jonas complied with his financial obligations imposed by previous court orders. Jonas continued to defy the court's orders regarding the payment of his support obligations. Shortly thereafter, Jonas was briefly incarcerated for contempt of court. The New Jersey Appellate Division upheld the series of actions taken by the trial court, stating, "As evidenced by the record, [Jonas] time and again failed to abide by the court's orders and deliberately avoided paying alimony and other support to the plaintiff."

         [¶8] As a result of his actions, the New Jersey State Bar suspended Jonas for a period of six months beginning on September 2, 2005, for conduct intended to disrupt a tribunal and conduct that was prejudicial to the administration of justice. Jonas has not been reinstated in New Jersey.

         [¶9] In 2006, Jonas was reciprocally suspended from the bar of Pennsylvania for a period of six months based on the discipline imposed in New Jersey. Jonas was reinstated to inactive status in Pennsylvania in 2014. In 2007, Jonas was reciprocally suspended from the Florida bar for a period of one year for committing conduct intended to disrupt a tribunal.

         [¶10] After his suspension from the New Jersey bar, Jonas's post-divorce proceedings in New Jersey continued. Jonas failed to attend multiple hearings during these proceedings. Based on Jonas's "obstinate refusal to comply or properly respond to court orders, " the Appellate Division dismissed an appeal from Jonas, stating, "[Jonas's] defiance is especially egregious in light of the fact that he was an attorney-at-law of this State and was suspended in this state and others for his willful evasion of court orders."

         [¶11] At some point prior to 2009, Jonas moved to Montana. When Linda sought to domesticate the New Jersey judgments in Montana, Jonas unsuccessfully launched a collateral attack on the judgments. The court granted Linda's motion to declare Jonas a vexatious litigant and found that in attempting to defy the New Jersey judgments, Jonas had willfully abused his litigation skills by filing "harassing, duplicative, vexatious, and frivolous" lawsuits, had filed appeals in matters in which he had "no objective good faith expectation of prevailing, " and had caused "needless expense and burden" to Linda.

         [¶12] During litigation that Jonas instituted in the United States District Court for the District of Montana against Linda, her Montana attorney, and others, Jonas was ordered to show cause why he should not be sanctioned pursuant to Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for making frivolous arguments. After Jonas failed to show good cause, the court issued a sanction in the form of an admonishment dated August 7, 2014. A copy of its admonishment was forwarded to the state bars of Maine, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. By the time the admonishment was forwarded to the Maine Bar, Jonas's reinstatement proceedings were already pending before the Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar. B. Procedural History of Jonas's Petition for Reinstatement in Maine

         [¶13] On September 20, 2013, Jonas filed a petition for reinstatement to the Maine Bar with the Supreme Judicial Court and the Board of Overseers of the Bar. The matter was assigned to a single justice of the Supreme Judicial Court. Bar Counsel opposed the petition. On March 4, 2014, the Grievance Commission held a hearing concerning the petition for reinstatement. The Commission recommended to the Board that Jonas be conditionally reinstated to the bar. Both Jonas and Bar Counsel objected to some aspect of the Grievance Commission's recommendations. In response, the Board created a "Special Panel" of the Board to review the evidence adduced at the Commission's hearing, seek additional written arguments from the parties, and make a recommendation to the Board as a whole as to whether the Board should recommend Jonas's reinstatement.

         [¶14] Once the Special Panel completed its work, the full Board met.[3] The Board found that Jonas did not meet his burden to establish that he should be reinstated. The Board concluded that the Grievance Commission had failed to consider the necessary factors in determining whether to recommend reinstatement. On September 24, 2014, the Board recommended to the single justice that Jonas's petition for reinstatement be denied.

         [¶15] After briefing and argument on several procedural issues, the single justice scheduled a de novo hearing on Jonas's petition in which the court provided the parties an opportunity to present all relevant evidence and make a record that was to be "created anew."

         [¶16] Prior to the hearing, Jonas filed a motion in limine seeking to exclude evidence of any issues regarding Jonas's conduct that were not raised in the hearing before the Grievance Commission. The single justice denied the motion, noting that Jonas had the burden to prove that he was eligible for reinstatement by clear and convincing evidence, and concluding that "[d]ue process does not require that the Board notify Mr. Jonas of those aspects of his burden that it anticipates challenging at the hearing, nor does due process limit the Board from challenging any aspect of Mr. Jonas's presentation."

         [¶17] A two-day bench trial was held on April 27 and 28, 2015. At the trial, Jonas objected to the admission of prior court orders and decisions in cases that involved him. The single justice overruled Jonas's objections, admitted the few orders and decisions ultimately offered by Jonas, and admitted the many orders and decisions offered by the Board.

         [¶18] On June 22, 2015, the single justice issued a judgment finding that Jonas had failed to establish by clear and convincing evidence that he was eligible for reinstatement. See M. Bar. R. 7.3 (j) (5). In reaching this conclusion, the single justice "considered the testimony of witnesses presented during the de novo hearing in April, the documents admitted in evidence at that hearing, the findings and conclusions made by various courts in prior proceedings in which Jonas was a party, and the parties' arguments." The judgment also indicated, "some of the cases [relied upon] were specifically provided by the parties at hearing, and others were found in electronic databases that are publicly available."

         [¶19] This appeal followed. See 4 M.R.S. § 57 (2016); In re Application of ...


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