Lawyer learns vindictiveness has no place in court

In a disciplinary decision, the Law Society of British Columbia Hearing Panel in Canada has held that a legal practitioner respondent engaged in professional misconduct.1

The respondent, Mr Edwards, had been representing himself in matrimonial proceedings in the Supreme Court of British Columbia. In the course of those proceedings, the respondent had engaged in misconduct by:2

a) paying costs to the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program rather than to the opposing party or her counsel:
i) contrary to the terms of a January 31, 2017 costs order
ii) to frustrate the opposing party, and
iii)to increase the cost of litigation for the opposing party.

b) drafting and forwarding a memo to the opposing party, in which he stated his intention to bring another application that he believed would result in the opposing party having to pay her lawyer more in fees than the sum of the 31 January 2017 costs order

c) filing two requisitions that were purportedly by consent, in circumstances where he knew or ought to have known that no such consent had been provided

d) threatening and instituting legal proceedings for an improper purpose, and

e) using the court process as a means of harassing and intimidating the opposing party.

Issues

Law Society of BC v Edwards, [2020] LSBC 57 was heard for the purposes of determining the appropriate disciplinary action, and to make a determination on costs.

The Hearing Panel outlined that, in making its decision, it may have regard to a non-exhaustive range of factors.3 The Hearing Panel held, though, that the seriousness of the misconduct was the prime determinant of the sanction imposed in this matter.4

Consideration of the issues

In relation to the seriousness of the conduct, the Hearing Panel referred to their observations in the disciplinary hearing, including that:

“The events giving rise to the Citation occurred within a discrete period of time and formed a strategic program of harassment. The Respondent was warned on separate occasions by two Justices of the Supreme Court of British Columbia that his behaviour was improper and likely to impugn his reputation.”5

They also highlighted that:

“When all of the evidence is drawn together, the only conclusion in this matter is that the Respondent utilized his legal expertise to bring improper pressure to bear on his opponents in legal proceedings. He would have been unable to pursue such a course had he not been a lawyer with significant court experience.”6

The conduct indicated intentions to misuse or frustrate court processes;7 intentions to frustrate the opposition;8 and also indicated elements of dishonesty.9 The conduct affected multiple parties including Ms Edwards, the respondent’s children, Ms Edwards’ counsel, Ms Edwards’ partner, the court process and the legal profession.10 It was also significant that the respondent’s conduct occurred over a number of years from 2014 through to 2017.11 The respondent’s 12 years of experience as a practitioner was a further aggravating factor.12

This matter particularly highlights issues which can emerge when legal practitioners self-represent in personal matters. The Hearing Panel noted, in particular:

“The Respondent’s unprofessional behaviour was protracted and continued in the face of numerous criticisms and warnings from the court. His judgment was patently contorted by his emotional response to his matrimonial situation, and he was indifferent to the impact on his family, his colleagues, the court system and other parties who were simply doing their job.”13

Ultimately, the Hearing Panel ordered a suspension from the practice of law for two months, and ordered the respondent to pay the costs of the Law Society, totalling $14,058.71.

Lauren Bicknell is a graduate in the QLS Ethics and Practice Centre. This article was prepared under the supervision of Grace van Baarle, Manager and Ethics Solicitor, QLS Ethics and Practice Centre.

Footnotes
1 Law Society of BC v Edwards [2020] LSBC 21.
2 Ibid [190], [198].
3 Law Society of BC v Edwards [2020] LSBC 57 [12].
4 Ibid [18].
5 Law Society of BC v Edwards [2020] LSBC 21 [192].
6 Ibid [197].
7 Law Society of BC v Edwards [2020] LSBC 57 [38], [40], [44], [47].
8 Ibid [33].
9 Ibid [36], [42].
10 Ibid [50].
11 Ibid [31].
12 Ibid [64].
13 Ibid [109].

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