Complaints, Lawyer Discipline and Public Hearings

Summary of Decision of the Hearing Panel

William Thomas Clarke

Kelowna, BC

Called to the bar: May 17, 1996

Written materials: July 12 and August 30, 2021

Decision issued: October 8, 2021 (2021 LSBC 39)

Panel: David Layton, QC, Chair, Brendan Matthews and Heidi Zetzsche

Counsel: Barbara Lohmann for the Law Society; William Smart, QC for William Thomas Clarke

FACTS

William Thomas Clarke was charged with knowingly uttering a threat to his former partner to cause her death or bodily harm. He pleaded not guilty and was tried in Provincial Court. At his trial, he claimed he was engaging in a jesting rant. The judge rejected this defence and concluded that Clarke intended the words to intimidate or be taken seriously and that he was fully aware a reasonable person would have perceived the words to be a threat of death or serious bodily harm.

In his reasons for judgment, the judge set out the circumstances of Clarke’s offence. Clarke and his former partner separated and their separation agreement set out custody and child support and provided for generally 50/50 division of assets. Clarke felt resentment that he had been forced to give her title to a condominium that he owned in Ontario. He owned several firearms that he left in the BC residence that he had shared with his former spouse, and she asked one of their mutual friends to collect the firearms and store them at the friend’s house, as she did not want to keep them or give them back to Clarke.

Clarke wrote on his social media page about “killing his past and maybe getting 25 years.” He told his former spouse on the phone that she kept taking their child away from him and said, “That is why spouses hate each other and kill each other, when they are deprived of the parenting rights they believe they are entitled to.” He later sent an email to her that said, “You may want to take a different approach. I saw you waving at the window today. I want you dead.” He later admitted to her that his comment had been inappropriate and apologized, and she chose not to go to the police just yet.

A few months later, he called his former partner to discuss arrangements regarding their child, and she asked why there had been a delay in the sale of the condominium and her receiving the proceeds. He called her greedy and went on to talk about a former criminal client who could solve problems by intimidating, hurting people or making them disappear. He said how people who were within six or two degrees of separation of them could end up with bullets in them and warned that she should beware. He mentioned he did not care if he ended up spending the rest of his life in jail.

Shortly after the phone call, the friend to whom his former partner had given Clarke’s firearms phoned to tell her Clarke had just called to say he was coming to pick up his guns. She then received a call from Clarke who asked if she had just spoken to the friend about him picking up his firearms. The timing of the call was frightening to her. She sought legal advice and reported the matter to the police.

The judge sentenced Clarke to a 12-month conditional discharge. The conviction was upheld on appeal by both the BC Supreme Court and the BC Court of Appeal.

Clarke self-reported his criminal charge to the Law Society. He continued to assert his innocence and stated he did not threaten his former partner. He acknowledged that his actions had adversely impacted her and he has participated in counselling and relationship programs. He said he now has a cordial relationship with her.

ADMISSION AND DETERMINATION

Clarke admitted to the allegations in the citation. The panel concluded that Clarke’s violation of the criminal law by threatening his former partner reflected adversely on public confidence in the legal profession and constituted conduct unbecoming the profession.

DISCIPLINARY ACTION

Clarke and the Law Society jointly submitted that the penalty should be a fine of $12,000.

The panel considered the significant seriousness of his conduct, particularly his access to firearms, the pattern of unacceptable behaviour toward his former partner and the significant impact on her. The panel noted that apart from his criminal conduct, he had a reputation of good character in the legal profession and the broader community. The panel accepted that Clarke had completed programs and counselling and had apologized for his behaviour. He has abided by all probation terms during his 12-month sentence.

The panel considered the range of penalties in similar cases and concluded the proposed fine of $12,000 would not be contrary to the public interest in the administration of justice. The panel ordered that Clarke pay:

  • a fine of $12,000; and
  • costs of $1,000.

 

2021 LSBC 39 Decision of the Hearing Panel