|For immediate release||April 18, 2001|
Law Society of B.C. disciplines lawyer
VANCOUVER – Pursuant to its statutory duty to govern B.C.'s legal profession in the public interest, the Law Society of B.C. has disciplined the following lawyer (the lawyer's year of call to the B.C. Bar appears in parentheses):
Lori Ellen Stevens (1989), of Abbotsford, B.C., admitted her conduct in causing or permitting farm animals for which she was responsible to be in distress contrary to s. 24(1) of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act was conduct unbecoming a lawyer under s. 38(4)(b)(ii) of the Legal Profession Act. A hearing panel ordered that she be reprimanded and that Ms. Stevens pay $1,000 in costs.
The hearing panel's report is available on the Law Society's website at: http://www.lawsociety.bc.ca/media/frame_media_news releases.html
The Law Society of B.C. was founded in 1869 and is the governing body of the legal profession in B.C. It is an independent organization funded by dues paid by all B.C. lawyers. Under the provisions of the Legal Profession Act, the Law Society is responsible for the licensing, professional conduct and discipline of the more than 10,000 lawyers in B.C.
The Law Society is governed by 31 directors who are known as "Benchers." Twenty-five of the Benchers are elected by lawyers from among the profession. In addition, the provincial government appoints six non-lawyers as Benchers to ensure the public interest is represented in all Law Society decisions. The Law Society's authorized spokesperson is its executive director, James G. Matkin.
The decision of the hearing panel follows this news release. Please note that the appendices to the decision are not available in electronic form.
For more information on the regulation and discipline of lawyers see The Legal Profession Act:
Section 3: Law Society duty to protect the public.
Part 4: Discipline
The Legal Profession Act is available on the Law Society of B.C. website here or the B.C. government's website at http://www.qp.gov.bc.ca/statreg.
Law Society of B.C. media contact:
Brad Daisley, Public Affairs Manager
Office: 604-443-5724 or 1-800-903-5300 toll-free in B.C.
 LSBC 12
THE LAW SOCIETY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA
IN THE MATTER OF the LEGAL PROFESSION ACT, S.B.C. 1998, c.9
- and -
LORI ELLEN STEVENS,
DECISION OF THE HEARING PANEL
Hearing Date[s]: March 15, 2001
Panel: Peter Keighley, Q.C., Chair
Robert Gourlay, Q.C.
Ralston Alexander, Q.C.
Counsel: for the Law Society:
for the Respondent Jessica Gossen
G. Jack Harris, Q.C.
1. On May 3, 2000 a citation was issued against the Respondent, Lori Ellen Stevens ("Ms. Stevens"), pursuant to the Legal Profession Act and Rule 4-13 of the Law Society Rules by the Executive Director of the Law Society of British Columbia pursuant to the direction of the Chair of the Discipline Committee. The citation directed that this Hearing Panel inquire into Ms. Stevens' conduct as follows:
"Your conduct in causing or permitting farm animals for which you were responsible to be in distress contrary to s.24(1) of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act R.S.B.C. 1996, Chapter 372 and Regulations thereto."
2. At the commencement of the Hearing counsel for Ms. Stevens admitted that the requirements of service of the citation had been met.
3. Ms. Stevens admitted that her conduct which resulted in her conviction under Section 24(1) of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act constituted conduct unbecoming a lawyer under Section 38(4)(b)(ii) of the Legal Profession Act, S.B.C. 1998, c.9. The Panel accepts this admission.
4. The only remaining issue in this Hearing was the appropriate penalty pursuant to Section 38(5) of the Legal Profession Act, given the admission of conduct unbecoming by Ms. Stevens.
5. The facts accepted by the Panel include those facts set out in the Agreed Statement of Facts in these proceedings attached as Appendix "A", and the facts agreed to by the parties in the Provincial Court proceedings attached as Appendix "B".
6. The Panel has taken particular note of the findings of Judge L.P. Clare in the Provincial Court proceedings, both as to the Judge's finding of guilt against the Member under Section 24(1) of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, and as to the reasons for the sentence imposed by Judge Clare. The sentence was that Ms. Stevens pay a fine totalling $1,725.00 and that Ms. Stevens not own or possess any domestic livestock for a period of two years. The findings of Judge Clare, both as to guilt and sentence are attached as Appendix "C".
7. The Panel benefited from the extensive submissions of counsel for the Law Society and counsel for the Member. The Panel members have read all of the material filed and referred to by counsel at this Hearing, including the admissions of fact, the authorities related to conduct unbecoming a lawyer, and numerous character references written in support of Ms. Stevens.
8. The Panel makes the following findings of fact:
(a) Ms. Stevens owned a farm (the "farm") in Agassiz jointly with her husband, Kenneth Roos ("Mr. Roos") on which they kept cattle;
(b) Ms. Stevens had secondary responsibility for the care of the cattle;
(c) The primary responsibility for care of the cattle rested with Mr. Roos;
(d) On May 28, 1998, members of the Agassiz RCMP and SPCA workers came to the farm and found approximately 62 dead cattle and 50 live cattle, in and about the farm's barn. Two cattle had to be destroyed;
(e) Ms. Stevens' guilt as determined by Judge Clare under Section 24(1) of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, consisted of her negligence towards the animal's welfare when she had a legal responsibility for that welfare in circumstances where she ought to have realized the animals were in peril;
(f) There was no dishonest conduct on the part of Ms. Stevens;
(g) Ms. Stevens has no mental instability, nor any drug or alcohol problem, which could detrimentally affect her ability to practise law;
(h) The circumstances in this matter in no way involve misconduct in the practice of Ms. Stevens' profession, but are solely related to conduct which is separate and apart from Ms. Stevens' practice as a lawyer;
(i) The allocation of household duties had Mr. Roos assuming responsibility for the cattle. Ms. Stevens knew by a visit from an RCMP officer in October, 1997, that the cattle were thin, that there was a potential problem as to their condition, and that Mr. Roos was to deal with this problem. There was no evidence placed before the Panel that Ms. Stevens' actions in regard to the cattle were wilful or malicious. Nevertheless, her lack of action constituted negligence and a lapse of judgment on her part in regard to her responsibility for ensuring the well-being of the cattle;
(j) Ms. Stevens' conduct in this matter was investigated by the Ministry of the Attorney General. The investigation did not affect her continued employment as Crown Counsel;
(k) Since Mr. Roos was a dairy farmer, and by agreement with Ms. Stevens, Mr. Roos had primary responsibility for the care of the cattle. Ms. Stevens engaged in her work as Crown Counsel, and tended to the needs of the family's two young children;
(l) In the period of October, 1997 to May, 1998, Ms. Stevens did not go to the barn where the cattle were kept. She said she believed it was Mr. Roos' responsibility to look after the cattle. Her year old son had asthma. Her son was allergic to animal dander, so being in the barn would be damaging to her son's health. Ms. Stevens was ill with pancreatitis in the first several months of 1998, and was hospitalized in May, 1998;
(m) Mr. Roos was suffering from clinical depression and had terribly neglected his responsibilities toward the cattle. Ms. Stevens was unaware of the condition of the cattle or the neglect of the cattle by Mr. Roos;
(n) Judge Clare gave an expansive interpretation to Section 24(1) of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. He determined that because Ms. Stevens was an owner of the cattle and because she had some control over them, she was "a person responsible" for the cattle;
(o) Ms. Stevens did not testify at the Provincial Court trial, although she did provide a deposition to the Law Society and answered questions posed by Law Society counsel;
(p) Ms. Stevens was negligent in not questioning Mr. Roos as to the condition of the cattle, and in not satisfying herself as to the condition of the cattle, when the cattle were in barns not a great distance from the family farm house;
(q) The Provincial Court proceedings, the attendant publicity, and some false media reports, have caused Ms. Stevens significant personal difficulty and substantial costs, and have resulted in a detrimental effect on her family. She has been the subject of threats, such that she and Mr. Roos sold the farm on which the cattle were kept, and relocated their residence.
9. Chapter 2, Rule 1 of the Professional Conduct Handbook states:
"A lawyer must not, in private life, extra-professional activities, or professional practice, engage in dishonourable or questionable conduct that casts doubt on the lawyer's professional integrity or competence, or reflects adversely on the integrity of the legal profession or the administration of justice".
10. Conduct unbecoming is that conduct which is not involved in a member's practice. It is any matter, conduct or thing which a Benchers' Panel considers:
a) is contrary to the best interests of the legal profession; or
b) harms the standing of the legal profession in the eyes of right-thinking members of the public.
It is conduct for which a member is worthy of censure, despite it not being related to the member's practice. The reputation of each member of the Law Society in the eyes of the public is of utmost importance to the standing of the profession generally. A member must conduct herself or himself in such a manner that the reputation of the profession as a whole is not damaged nor diminished by her or his conduct.
11. Although there was no evidence that Ms. Stevens wilfully neglected the cattle, after considering extensive evidence of the circumstances, Judge Clare held that Ms. Stevens committed an offence under Section 24(1) of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. The Panel agrees there was evidence of negligence or wilful blindness on the part of Ms. Stevens towards her responsibility for the cattle, of which she was a co-owner. Ms. Stevens has admitted that her actions in this matter do constitute conduct unbecoming a lawyer. Ms. Stevens' apparent lack of knowledge about the condition of the cattle remains difficult to understand and troubling to the Panel. It was her failure to inquire of Mr. Roos as to the condition of the cattle which constitutes negligence. Her negligence in regard to her legal responsibility for the cattle could properly be said to harm the standing of the legal profession in the eyes of right-thinking members of the public.
12. This case attracted attention in the community at large and in the media. We are basing our findings solely upon the evidence placed before us at the Hearing and upon our Act and Rules. We have no basis for evaluating Ms. Stevens' conduct other than the evidence placed before us by counsel, including the admissions made by Ms. Stevens, Ms Stevens' deposition to the Law Society, and counsels' submissions.
13. Section 38(5) says:
"(5) If an adverse determination is made against a respondent, other than an articled student, under subsection (4), the panel must do one or more of the following:
(a) reprimand the respondent;
(b) fine the respondent an amount not exceeding $20,000;
(c) impose conditions on the respondent's practice;
(d) suspend the respondent from the practice of law or from practice in one or more fields of law
(i) for a specified period of time,
(ii) until the respondent complies with a requirement under paragraph (f),
(iii) from a specific date until the respondent complies with a requirement under paragraph (f), or
(iv) for a specific minimum period of time and until the respondent complies with a requirement under paragraph (f);
(e) disbar the respondent;
(f) require the respondent to do one or more of the following:
(i) complete a remedial program to the satisfaction of the practice standards committee;
(ii) appear before a board of examiners appointed by the panel or by the practice standards committee and satisfy the board that the respondent is competent to practice law or to practice in one or more fields of law;
(iii) appear before a board of examiners appointed by the panel or by the practice standards committee and satisfy the board that the respondent's competence to practise law is not adversely affected by a physical or mental disability, or dependency on alcohol or drugs;
(iv) practise law only as a partner, employee or associate of one or more other lawyers;
(g) prohibit a respondent who is not a member but who is permitted to practise law under a rule made under section 16(2)(a) or 17(1)(a) from practising law in British Columbia indefinitely or for a specified period of time.
14. The decision on penalty of this Panel must reflect the necessity to uphold the reputation of the members of the Law Society by penalizing conduct of a member which falls below that level of personal conduct expected of members of the Law Society.
15. It is the Panel's view that a reprimand is appropriate. A reprimand is the penalty jointly proposed by counsel. A reprimand is justified in the present circumstances by Ms. Stevens' conduct, which conduct did constitute neglect of the proper care of the cattle, even though Ms. Stevens' direct responsibility was secondary to that of Mr. Roos. A reprimand is a sufficient penalty to censure Ms. Stevens' conduct, and which takes account of the level of Ms. Stevens' responsibility and the monetary penalty already imposed by Judge Clare.
16. The Panel's view is that disbarment or a suspension is not warranted by the evidence placed before us and by the findings of Judge Clare. Given the fine imposed by Judge Clare and Ms. Stevens' financial situation, a fine is not appropriate. Since this matter did not involve Ms. Stevens' professional practice, and she has agreed with her employer not to prosecute cases of animal abuse, we decline to impose any conditions on her practice.
17. The reprimand will be registered on the Member's record with the Law Society. Counsel requested a limitation to the duration of the recording of this reprimand on the Member's record. The Panel has no clear jurisdiction to order such a limitation and does not, in any event, find any compelling reason to do so in this case.
18. The Panel determines that $1,000 should be contributed by Ms. Stevens towards the costs of this Hearing as proposed by Law Society counsel. Ms. Stevens has had substantial legal fees as a result of the Provincial Court proceedings, she has been subject to almost three years of proceedings in this matter, and she has endured press coverage during this time, some of which press coverage was inaccurate. Nevertheless, some contribution by the Member to the costs of this Hearing is warranted in these circumstances.
19. Ms. Stevens' counsel made application for non-publication of this decision. There is no persuasive reason advanced not to order publication of this decision. To the contrary, we consider publication to be necessary in the public interest and for the membership. The Panel orders that a summary of this decision be published in the usual course pursuant to Rule 4-38.
Peter Keighley, Q.C.
Robert Gourlay, Q.C.
Ralston Alexander, Q.C.