Complaints, Lawyer Discipline and Public Hearings

Summary of Decision on Facts and Determination


John (Jack) Joseph Jacob Hittrich

Surrey, BC

Called to the bar: August 1, 1986

Discipline hearing: March 4 and 5, April 12, 2019

Panel: Phil Riddell, QC (chair); Linda Michaluk; Shona Moore, QC

Decision issued: July 8, 2019 (2019 LSBC 24)

Counsel: Peter Senkpiel and Julia Lockhart for the Law Society; Peter Leask, QC, Russell S. Tretiak, QC and Rasajovan S. Dale for John (Jack) Joseph Jacob Hittrich.

FACTS

John (Jack) Joseph Jacob Hittrich was acting on behalf of foster parents whose application to adopt a child under their care had been rejected by the Director of Child, Family and Community Services. The Director had refused on the basis that it was in the best interests of the child to be reunited with her two siblings, who were under the care of adults in Ontario.

An interim order was granted prohibiting the removal of the children pending the outcome of petitions and appeals filed by Hittrich.

The Director arranged for a video conference attended by the child, the child’ s two siblings, and social workers accompanying the child.

The foster parents were not allowed to attend the video conference, but one of the foster parents surreptitiously made an audio recording of the conference. Afterward the foster parents told Hittrich that the social workers had referred to the Ontario adults as “ mommy” and “ daddy.” The foster parents considered this to be evidence of a de facto decision to remove the child from their care, and potentially to be a breach of the interim order. The social workers affirmed in affidavits that the Ontario adults had not been referred to as “ mommy” and “ daddy.”

Hittrich sent a letter to counsel for the Director, stating that he had a transcript of the video conference indicating that the social workers had lied when denying they had referred to the Ontario adults as “ mommy” and “ daddy.” Referring to this as “ perjury,” Hittrich stated that, if the Director was prepared to consent to the foster parents adopting the child, then his clients were prepared to discontinue all legal proceedings with the exception of finalization of the adoption.  Hittrich referred to the possibility of “ appropriate sanctions” against the social workers should the litigation proceed further.

The Director rejected the settlement proposal outlined in the letter.

Hittrich was unsuccessful in overturning the Director’ s rejection of the foster parents’ application for adoption, and costs were awarded against him with regard to one of the petitions he had filed, which had been struck as an abuse of process.

DETERMINATION

In the course of the Law Society investigation, Hittrich admitted to understanding that perjury is a criminal offence.

The Code of Professional Conduct for British Columbia provides that a lawyer “ must not, in an attempt to gain a benefit for a client, threaten, or advise a client to threaten... to initiate or proceed with a criminal or quasi-criminal charge.”

The panel found that Hittrich’ s reference to perjury was a threat to commence a criminal proceeding and that Hittrich offered not to initiate a criminal proceeding in return for the Director consenting to the foster parents adopting the child.

The panel found that Hittrich committed professional misconduct.

2019 LSBC 24 Decision on Facts and Determination