Friday, December 13, 2013
The Rumford attorney who called in bomb threats to two Wilton schools in March 2012 is allowed to continue his law practice — but with stipulations — in a decision by the Maine Bar this week.
A decision handed down Monday by the Board of Overseers of the Bar detailed the manner in which the attorney, Ron Hoffman, committed the crimes and then lied to police about it.
While in court, Hoffman accepted responsibility for his actions but cited as their root cause a series of medical conditions for which he was not receiving proper treatment. The board found that Hoffman’s current regimen of medications and counseling sessions allow him to continue his law practice.
Hoffman, whose threatening phone calls caused an evacuation of 360 children from Academy Hill and G.D. Cushing elementary schools, will be allowed to continue to practice law in the state under an order issued by Donald Alexander, associate justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.
If Hoffman fails to attend required stress management classes or to comply with other requirements in the decision, his license to practice law in Maine will be suspended for two years.
After reviewing his case, the board found Hoffman violated the association’s Maine Rules of Professional Conduct, with his criminal and unprofessional actions causing serious harm in the community.
The board also found that Hoffman had taken steps to prevent further unprofessional behavior.
“The record demonstrates that since mid-April 2012, Hoffman has proceeded aggressively to address his medical and mental health issues,” the order from Alexander says.
Hoffman, who lives in Sumner and has a law practice in Rumford, graduated from the Massachusetts School of Law in 1996 and has acted as the defense attorney in several high-profile cases in Maine, including that of murderer Christian Nielsen.
On the morning of March 29, 2012, Hoffman called each school within a two-minute time frame and said, in slurred speech, “There is a bomb in your school!” The schools were evacuated and police determined that there were no bombs in either building.
School officials testified in court about the emotional effect on the community, particularly the younger children, who experienced confusion and anger.
Wilton police Chief Heidi Wilcox obtained a court order for access to phone records and found that the calls had been placed from a Tracphone, a cellphone that allows the user to prepay by the minute.
The investigators found the phone had been purchased the evening before the bomb scare at a Walmart in nearby Mexico. While reviewing store security camera footage, Maine State Police Detective Randall Keaten recognized Hoffman, whom he knew personally.
When Keaten and another detective confronted Hoffman, he first denied that he had ever bought a Tracphone. Then, when shown a photo from the security footage, Hoffman said he bought it for a brother-in-law in Colorado but had thrown it away in his office trash because he couldn’t activate it.
Hoffman also told detectives that he was meeting with a client at the time the bomb threat was phoned in, which detectives later learned was untrue.
Hoffman was charged formally with two misdemeanor counts of terrorizing in July 2012. His attorney, James Martemucci, initially entered a plea of not guilty, but Hoffman later pleaded no contest to the charges.
In September 2012, Hoffman offered a tearful apology in Farmington District Court, during which he took responsibility for his actions.
In court, Hoffman and other witnesses said he suffers from serious and chronic medical conditions, including insulin-dependent diabetes, obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety and depression. He also suffers from Graves disease, a thyroid gland disorder that caused fatigue, anxiety and difficulty with depression.
While he was being treated by various medical providers, no single physician oversaw all of his care, nor was he seeing a mental health professional in the period during in his mental state deteriorated.
Two weeks after phoning in the bomb threats, “Hoffman sought medical attention for his growing fatigue, agitation, anxiety, and to confront his bizarre behaviors,” according to the order signed by Alexander.
The court sentenced Hoffman to two consecutive 364-day sentences, both of which were suspended. In addition, the court ordered Hoffman to avoid the schools, take all prescribed medications, submit to psychiatric counseling sessions and follow the advice of doctors and counselors.
He is undergoing counseling and is on a regimen of medication that has stabilized his health and mental condition, according to the board’s decision. Hoffman’s colleagues testified, both in court and before the bar, that Hoffman has represented his clients with skill, integrity and dedication.
Hoffman is the father of two adopted boys, and he and his wife are adopting a third child. The state Department of Health and Human Services approved the placement and prospective adoption after investigating the bomb threat incident, according to the decision from the board.
Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287