The publication of conduct review summaries is intended to assist lawyers by providing information about ethical and conduct standards.
A conduct review is a confidential meeting between a lawyer against whom a complaint has been made and a conduct review subcommittee, which may also be attended by the complainant at the discretion of the subcommittee. The Discipline Committee may order a conduct review pursuant to Rule 4-4, rather than issue a citation to hold a hearing regarding the lawyer’s conduct, if it considers that a conduct review is a more effective disposition and is in the public interest. The committee takes into account a number of factors, including:
- the lawyer’s professional conduct record;
- the need for specific or general deterrence;
- the lawyer’s acknowledgement of misconduct and any steps taken to remedy any loss or damage caused by his or her conduct; and
- the likelihood that a conduct review will provide an effective rehabilitation or remedial result.
Conduct Review Summary – Glen Orris QC
The subject of this conduct review summary has consented to publication of his name as this matter is known to the public.
Mr. Orris was counsel for one of the accused charged with three murders committed between 2004 and 2005 in the North Okanagan. The trial, which was expected to last many months, started in Vancouver in May 2011 before a judge and jury.
At the start of the trial, the judge gave instructions to the jury that during the trial the jurors were not to talk about the case or anything else with anyone involved in it, including the accused, witnesses, investigating officers and the lawyers. Two weeks later, Crown Counsel asked the judge to clarify for the jury that no rudeness was implied when counsel ignored them when they ran into each other the vicinity of the courthouse. Several counsel, including Mr. Orris, took the position that this clarification was unnecessary.
Mr. Orris regularly exercised during lunch at a gym close to the courthouse. One of the jurors also started to exercise there. On a number of occasions, Mr. Orris was observed by members of B.C. Sheriff Services talking to a juror for periods of between five to 15 minutes while they worked out in close proximity. The sheriffs advised the judge.
The judge raised the issue with counsel, in the absence of the jury. Mr. Orris volunteered that it was likely he, as he worked out at the same gym as one of the jurors and they had occasionally discussed weightlifting and exchanged pleasantries. He offered to adjust his workout schedule, but the judge indicated it was not necessary. The judge again warned the jury not to communicate with people involved in the trial. That same day, Mr. Orris again spoke with the juror at the gym, where he apologized to her for what had happened and accepted full responsibility.
The judge again raised the issue in court, after receiving further information from the sheriffs. He conducted an inquiry which included interviewing the juror, who said the conversations did not relate to the trial and her impartiality was not affected. In his decision, while the judge decided it was not necessary to remove the juror from the jury, he characterized Mr. Orris’ conduct as “incomprehensible” and “profoundly wrong”. The inquiry caused a delay in the proceedings. The contact between Mr. Orris and the juror could have caused grave consequences by interfering with the juror’s duty to be objective in her decision-making.
Mr. Orris acknowledged during his conduct review that there was no excuse for his behaviour and that it was wrong. He was embarrassed that his actions caused the concerns that they did as well as delaying the proceedings while the court undertook its inquiry. Mr. Orris acknowledged that his engaging the juror in conversation, even though they did not talk about the trial or anything to do with it, was inappropriate. It was acknowledged by Mr. Orris that in the future any casual contact between counsel and a juror should be dealt with by nothing more than a brief, informal greeting.
Breach of trust accounting rules
A lawyer withdrew his fees from trust without first preparing and delivering a bill to 38 of his clients, contrary to Rule 3-57(2). The withdrawals occurred at a time when the lawyer was suffering from significant mental health issues. The lawyer attends the Lawyer Assistance Program and now has no responsibility for trust accounts. (CR #2013-18)
Breach of trust accounting rules and breach of undertaking
A lawyer inadvertently disbursed holdback funds prior to complying with all conditions of an undertaking. He failed to report the breach of undertaking or the resulting trust shortage to the Executive Director, contrary to Rule 3-66, and he permitted a non-lawyer notary, who was supervising his practice while he was away, to sign seven trust cheques, contrary to Rule 3-56(2)(c). The lawyer was encouraged to use Law Society resources, such as the Practice Advisors and local Benchers, when questions arise. (CR #2013-19).
Breach of undertaking
A lawyer released funds to his client, contrary to terms of an undertaking. The undertaking was not in compliance with what the lawyer believed to be the terms of the settlement. He wrote opposing counsel indicating his disagreement with the terms imposed and saying that, unless he heard from him within two days, he would release the funds. Opposing counsel did not respond for one month, by which time the funds had been released. A conduct review subcommittee discussed with the lawyer the importance of complying with Chapter 11, Rule 11 of the Professional Conduct Handbook (now rules 5.1-6 and 7.2-11 of the BC Code). The lawyer has taken steps to flag all undertakings and now knows that, regardless of his personal or professional assessment of their appropriateness, he must comply with the strict wording of the undertaking or advise counsel that he cannot accept the undertaking and promptly return the documents or property sent with it. The subcommittee encouraged the lawyer to consult with Benchers, Law Society Practice Advisors or other senior members of the bar when he faces similar challenges in the future. (CR #2013-22)
Breach of no-cash rule
A lawyer accepted an aggregate amount of $8,000 cash in relation to one client matter, contrary to Rule 3-51.1. The lawyer received funds from or on behalf of his client that were to be forwarded to the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program. The lawyer mistakenly believed that the $7,500 restriction applied to each transaction or payment, not each client matter. (CR #2013-13)
A lawyer was involved in an altercation with another person at a restaurant that resulted in a criminal charge, contrary to Chapter 2, Rule 1 of the Professional Conduct Handbook (now section 2.2 of the BC Code). The lawyer subsequently completed anger management counselling and a Canadian Bar course on ethics. He is now aware that the private actions of lawyers can affect the public confidence in both the Law Society and the justice system. (CR #2013-21)
Duty to court
A lawyer failed to disclose material information in an ex parte application in a family law matter about her communications with an unrepresented opposing party. A conduct review subcommittee encouraged the lawyer to clearly advise the court of all material facts, both adverse and in support of her client’s position, on any ex parte applications. The subcommittee recommended using written communication when dealing with self-represented litigants, wherever possible, and reminding them that the lawyer was neither acting in their interest nor providing legal advice to them. (CR #2013-12)
A lawyer failed to attend previously scheduled appearances in Provincial Court. The lawyer has improved his office systems to ensure that his diary contains a history of all appearances and that there is written record of requests for adjournments. (CR #2013-14)
Duty to other lawyers and quality of service
A lawyer failed to respond to communications from another lawyer on a real estate transaction and, by doing so, also failed to provide the level of service his client should have been able to expect from a competent lawyer. The lawyer reviewed his office practices and now has procedures in place to ensure that matters requiring attention are not missed or delayed. (CR #2013-20)
Failure to report criminal charge
A lawyer failed to report an impaired driving and refusal to provide a breath sample charge to the Law Society, contrary to Rule 3-90(1). The lawyer has a history of alcohol dependency for which she has been previously monitored by Practice Standards and for which she is now seeking treatment. She is currently a non-practising lawyer. Lawyers are reminded of their obligation to report criminal charges to the Law Society. (CR #2013-10)
A lawyer failed to report charges of assault and uttering a threat to the Law Society. He was later charged with a breach of a no-contact order, which he did report to the Society. The lawyer acknowledged that his conduct in breaching an undertaking given to the court was conduct unbecoming and admitted that he should have reported the criminal charges. The lawyer has met with the Lawyers Assistance Program and a family counsellor. (CR #2013-16)
Quality of service
A lawyer contacted clients of his employer and entered into retainer agreements with them in an inappropriate manner. His conduct included directing those clients’ settlement funds to his own personal trust account while still in the employ of his employer. Such conduct was in breach of Chapter 3, Rules 6 and 8 of the Professional Conduct Handbook (now commentary to rule 3.7-1 of the BC Code), which require that a letter be sent to the client explaining that the client has the choice of counsel going forward. The rules are intended to prevent clients from being in a legal tug of war between two firms. The lawyer’s conduct was also dishonourable in that it showed a lack of professionalism, integrity and collegiality that one should expect from a lawyer, contrary to Chapter 2, Rule 1 (now section 2.2 of the BC Code). The lawyer has taken steps to educate himself about his professional obligations and the importance of separating his emotions from his judgment. (CR #2013-23)
A lawyer delayed for 18 months in handling his client’s claim and failed to properly communicate with the client his decision to withdraw in the face of an impending deadline for service of a Writ of Summons and Statement of Claim. The lawyer has since taken the Law Society’s Communications Toolkit course. (CR #2013-24)
Dishonourable or questionable conduct
A lawyer violated the Securities Act by engaging in insider trading. The lawyer had failed to ensure that a press release had been issued prior to purchasing the shares. His conduct is contrary to Chapter 2, Rule 1 and Chapter 7, Rules 1 and 2 of the Professional Conduct Handbook (now section 2.2 and rule 3.4-26.1 of the BC Code). (CR #2013-25)
A lawyer failed to advise an unrepresented party that she was not protecting their interests, contrary to Chapter 4, Rule 1 of the Professional Conduct Handbook (now rule 7.2-9 of the BC Code). The lawyer also failed to properly supervise her paralegal by allowing her to give legal advice, contrary to Chapter 12, Rule 1 of the Professional Conduct Handbook (now rule 6.1-1 of the BC Code). The lawyer now practises with two senior practitioners who are available to provide her with assistance. (CR #2013-26)
Rudeness and Incivility
A lawyer was confrontational and aggressive when dealing with an unrepresented opposing party in a family law matter. He showed no appreciation of the boundaries between being an advocate and litigant and showed a lack of judgment in bringing children to court in a highly charged, emotional matter. He failed to appreciate his role in facilitating a resolution between emotionally volatile parties. A conduct review subcommittee reviewed the professional obligations of a lawyer to uphold the standards of the profession, which include courtesy, civility, good judgment and acting in a professional manner at all time. The subcommittee recommended that he continue to seek professional advice and therapy to rectify his behaviour. (CR #2013-09)
A lawyer was involved in altercations with several Crown Counsel and court staff and treated a client in a rude and verbally abusive manner. The lawyer has a history of anger management problems. The lawyer has been referred to Practice Standards for help with practice management issues. He has also taken courses in anger management and has contacted the Lawyers Assistance Program for guidance. (CR #2013-17)