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Tears and ‘poor decisions’ as DA candidate's disbarment hearing continues

Seth Carey, left, shields his eyes as he tears up Wednesday during testimony in a disbarment hearing in a Portland courtroom. Carey, a candidate for district attorney in Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties, is facing disbarment over allegations of sexual assault of a client. Carey has denied the allegations and said he remains committed to seeking the DA seat. (Jake Bleiberg | BDN)

PORTLAND (BDN) -- A candidate for district attorney took the witness stand in a Portland court Thursday and promptly broke into tears.

Seth Carey managed to swear to tell the truth and answer questions about his name and age. But the Republican nominee in Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties sputtered to a stop when his own lawyer asked about his childhood in Rumford.

After Carey, 43, reached for a box of tissues, the judge decided to take a break. The court reconvened a few minutes later and all parties agreed that Carey would try again Friday.

His brief testimony came toward the end of an unusual day of court hearings over revoking Carey’s law license, largely based on accusations of sexual assault against him. The disciplinary proceeding has seen sequestered witnesses repeatedly sitting in the courtroom during testimony, and the judge ordering Carey to surrender a cellphone belonging to the woman accusing him.

On Friday morning, the woman, who the Bangor Daily News is not naming because she’s the alleged victim of abuse, unexpectedly told the court that Carey had stolen her old cellphone.

Carey had the phone out on a courtroom table, although he said it’d been “abandoned” at his home, not stolen.

Confusion ensued.

Justice Thomas Warren eventually said the phone wasn’t admissible as evidence and should be returned to the woman. This prompted a few minutes of lawyerly discussion over who should hold on to the device during the proceeding, and the phone was passed from hand to hand and between opposing parties before Warren said the court would keep it temporarily.

The case against Carey has the potential to disqualify him from taking office, as Maine law requires that district attorneys be lawfully admitted to the bar. He has strongly denied that he sexually assaulted the woman and is suing her in a separate civil case.

The woman testified at length Wednesday about the alleged assaults and Carey is expected to offer rebuttal in his own testimony. But most of Thursday was occupied with the woman’s cross examination and testimony from a psychologist who evaluated Carey in 2016.

On the witness stand, Nadir Behrem said he diagnosed the lawyer with a “personality disorder” that includes “narcissistic features,” “suspiciousness and holding grudges,” and a tendency to escalate disagreements.

“He tends to make poor decisions in general because his perceptions can be wrong at times,” said Behrem, a forensic psychologist for the state who evaluated Carey as part of his private practice. “It’s not just when he’s angry.”

Carey’s lawyer, James Howaniec, did not challenge Behrem’s diagnosis on cross examination but noted that his client had performed well in school, which the psychologist affirmed.

Behrem also said that Carey “finds great meaning in his work … gets along with his clients and is able to build rapport with them.” The lawyer was “fairly pleasant” during their interactions and has been “wIlling to work for clients despite the possibility of not being paid,” Behrem testified.

Howaniec devoted significant time to questioning the woman accusing Carey of sexual assault, working to raise questions about her past history and find inconsistencies in her testimony, including in lengthy text and Facebook messages she exchanged with Carey.

Under questioning, the woman acknowledged having filed a protection from abuse order against her ex-husband, having sought a protection from harassment order against a woman and having been the subject of protection from abuse orders herself.

She also said that despite the alleged harassment she didn’t move out of Carey’s home until after she filed the protection from abuse order, although her parents might have let her sleep on their couch.

Howaniec also asked her why, despite the alleged abuse, she had returned to Carey’s house after having moved out and into another man’s place. She said the second man was violent.

“I didn’t fear for my life at Seth’s,” the woman said “He was an inappropriate dirtbag but that was better than being physically abused.”

As she was testifying, another court issued a decision against Carey in a case related to an earlier two-year suspension of his law license.

Carey had filed a wide-ranging complaint against Board of Overseers of the Bar, the Sun Journal newspaper of Lewiston and others over the disciplinary action. A lower court agreed to dismiss that case and the Maine Supreme Judicial Court affirmed that ruling Thursday.

Carey said around noon that he had not seen the decision but that it is the ongoing hearing that will decide his eligibility for office.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

If you or someone you know needs resources or support related to sexual violence, contact the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault’s 24/7 hotline at 1-800-871-7741.

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