Saturday, May 25, 2019

"A Stunning Lack Of Judgment"

A Hearing Panel of the British Columbia Law Society found that an attorney's assault on and conflicted representation of the same client violated governing ethics rules. 

   On September 12, 2017, the Law Society of British Columbia (“the Law Society”) issued a Citation against Michael Murph Ranspot (the “Respondent”).  The Citation contained two allegations of misconduct:

1.      assaulting CC and pleading guilty to assault causing bodily harm, which constitutes conduct unbecoming a lawyer, pursuant to section 38(4) of the Legal Profession Act (the “Act”), and

2.      acting in a conflict of interest when he represented CC in family law proceedings, contrary to one or more of rules 3.4-26.1, 3.4-28 and 3.4-34 of the Code of Professional Conduct for British Columbia (the “BC Code”), because he:

(a)         was in a personal, romantic relationship with CC; and

(b)        loaned funds to CC without ensuring she had independent legal advice regarding the loans,

which constitutes professional misconduct, pursuant to section 38(4) of the Legal Profession Act.

At issue

The Respondent has admitted the underlying facts to his conduct in both allegations of the Citation, but has not admitted that the conduct amounts to conduct unbecoming and/or professional misconduct.

Allegation One

On December 31, 2015, a physical altercation occurred between the Respondent and CC, resulting in a charge under the Criminal Code of assault causing bodily harm and assault with a weapon against the Respondent.  He pleaded guilty to the former and received a 16-month conditional discharge on March 8, 2017.

Allegation Two involved his representation of the client in a domestic relations matter

During the periods of time when the Respondent represented CC or assisted her counsel, he did not charge her legal fees for his services, but invoiced her for disbursements only.

From approximately May 2013 until October 2014, during the course of his romantic relationship with CC and while periodically engaged in a solicitor-client relationship with her, the Respondent began to lend CC money on an “as-needed” basis to help with expenses.

On November 10, 2014, the Respondent provided CC with an invoice for disbursements incurred in the family law proceedings and for payment of a utility bill, as well as for cash that he had lent her from May 2013 to October 2014.

The Respondent admits and the Panel has found that he never advised CC to seek independent legal advice related to the monies she borrowed from him.  As far as the Respondent is aware, CC never received independent legal advice on this issue.

As to the assault

criminal conduct is an “obvious example” of conduct unbecoming.  Such conduct is considered to be contrary to the best interests of the public and the legal profession and harms the standing of the legal profession...

The Respondent entered a guilty plea to assaulting CC causing bodily harm on November 9, 2016.  CC’s physical injuries were not insignificant and resulted in attendance at a hospital.  The Respondent admitted, and the Panel has accepted, that alcohol was at the core of his life problems during this period.  Unfortunately, this factor alone cannot mitigate the Respondent’s obligation to conduct himself in accordance with the standards set out in the BC Code that govern his private life, as well as his professional life.

And the conflict

 The Respondent admitted, and the Panel has found, that the Respondent acted as CC’s lawyer in her family law matter during a period of time when he was also in a personal, romantic relationship with her. 

While still in a relationship with CC and acting as her counsel, the Respondent loaned CC money during this period without ensuring that CC had independent legal advice.

The Respondent remained on the record of CC’s appeals, notwithstanding the physical altercation with CC followed by a charge of assault causing bodily harm.  It was not until he was charged a month later with assault with a weapon related to the same altercation that the Respondent filed a Notice of Withdrawal.

The Respondent decided to act for a client with whom he was in a personal, romantic relationship and to lend her money while still acting for her and without ensuring she had independent legal advice.  He continued to represent her following a physical altercation resulting in criminal charges.   The Panel finds that these circumstances are the result, on so many levels, of a stunning lack of judgment.  This conduct can only amount to “gross culpable neglect of his duties as a lawyer.” (Martin, at paragraphs151 to 154)

The evidence supports, on a balance of probabilities, that the Respondent’s behaviour is a “marked departure from the conduct the Law Society expects of its members” (Martin, at paragraph 171).  Accordingly, we find the Respondent’s conduct amounts to professional misconduct.

CBC reported on the bar case.

A West Vancouver lawyer who seriously assaulted his girlfriend while improperly representing her in divorce proceedings demonstrated "gross culpable neglect of his duties," according to the Law Society of B.C.

Michael Murph Ranspot's actions amount to professional misconduct, a decision issued this week says.

"The [law society] panel finds that these circumstances are the result, on so many levels, of a stunning lack of judgment. This conduct can only amount to 'gross culpable neglect of his duties as a lawyer,'" the decision reads...

This isn't Ranspot's first time being disciplined by the professional regulator.

He was suspended from practice for 18 months beginning in 1997 after billing the Legal Services Society for legal aid that he hadn't provided, among other examples of misconduct. He was also fined in 2007 for professional misconduct.

(Mike Frisch)

Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink


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