Sunday, October 24, 2021
A hearing committee of the Saskatchewan Law Society accepted stipulated findings that an attorney sexually harassed a client
On or about April 27, 2010, the Member attended Court and personally met his client, B.H., for the first time prior to the commencement of proceedings. When the complainant’s daughter left, the Member moved closer to B.H. and told her that he was “not expecting someone like her” and began running his hands up and down her thighs. Following this, the Member advised B.H. to plead guilty which she did.
After the court proceeding and while speaking to B.H. at the probation office, the Member leaned forward and began stroking her thighs in the presence of B.H.’s daughter. The complainant did not consent to any of the physical touching by the Member.
The mitigating factors noted by the Committee include the Member’s lack of prior discipline history and that the facts upon which this plea was based were agreed to and he accepted responsibility for his behavior by entering a guilty plea. The most significant mitigating factor is that the Member continues to bear the consequences for his misconduct as he was terminated from his employment as a lawyer in the middle of October 2020 when the formal complaint was initiated. He has not been able to obtain employment at any other law firm or organization due to these pending allegations.
During the course of the hearing, we found that the Member seemed genuinely remorseful when making submissions. He did not try to minimize his misconduct and accepted sole responsibility for his behavior. He also indicated that he was taking ongoing steps in counselling to address issues of sexual boundaries and appropriateness among other matters. He further indicated that he is unsure if he will ever practice law again. He specifically acknowledged the hurt he caused the victim and wanted to apologize to her. While both he and this committee understood that a personal apology would be unwise at this point, we would ask counsel for Law Society to convey the Member’s words to B.H.
The aggravating factors in this matter included the prolonged impact on the victim along with the clear violation of her sexual integrity. It is clear that this sexual assault weighed on the victim for 10 years before she had the courage to bring the matter forward. While sexual harassment encompasses a range of misconduct, given the physical nature of the conduct by the Member against a vulnerable client, this is an egregious violation of the Code.
the Hearing Committee suspends the Member for a period of one month commencing on the date of this decision. The sentence will reflect that the total period of suspension will be 6 months with 5 months considered to have already been served given that the Member was not practicing since January 1, 2021.