WINDSOR – Two prominent lawyers in Windsor have been penalized by the Nova Scotia Barrister’s Society for misconduct.
Jim White, senior partner with the How Lawrence White Bowes law office in downtown Windsor, has been suspended from practising law by the Nova Scotia Barrister's Society for the month of March due to misconduct.
Victoria Rees, director of professional responsibility with the society, said it’s unusual for two lawyers from the same firm to have a public finding in this manner.
“We deal with hundreds of complaints and only about 15 to 20 per cent require full investigation and referral to our complaints investigation committee,” Rees said. “Only one per cent of those end up with a public or formal hearing.”
Deborah Bowes, a lawyer with Windsor firm How Lawrence White Bowes, was formally reprimanded on Jan. 30.
NSBS documents state that Bowes consented to the reprimand for breaching the code of professional conduct and the society’s regulations by accepting cash payments from clients without claiming the income for the firm or through the Canada Revenue Agency.
According to the agreed statement of facts, the RCMP contacted the Barristers’ Society on July 16, 2014 to inform them of an investigation they were conducting into allegations of theft made by How Lawrence White Bowes against a former employee.
During the investigation, the employee made allegations to the RCMP that lawyers at the firm had been engaged in misconduct.
The RCMP provided the information they had gathered from the employee to the society, which carried out its own investigation. On July 18, 2014, the Complaints Investigation Committee ordered a financial audit be conducted on the books, records and accounts of the firm. The former employee also filed a written complaint against Bowes.
During the audit, Bowes volunteered that she had occasionally received cash payments from clients for fees and failed to record this income in the firm’s books. This income was not taxed.
In a recorded interview last September, Bowes admitted she had accepted a $3,000 cash payment from a client without recording it.
“In accordance with the terms of her employment arrangement with James White, she provided $1,500 of this sum to Mr. White and she retained the other half,” the agreed statement of facts states.
She added that cash payments had been collected over the past five or six years in this manner.
The reprimand includes a condition that Bowes can no longer employ an articled clerk for three years.
There were no prior complaints filed against Bowes.
Bowes was originally admitted to the bar in 1993, and was with How Lawrence White Bowes until 2014. She recently incorporated her own practice and is now self-employed with the same firm.
Senior partner also suspended
James J. White, a senior partner in the firm, was also suspended and penalized for misconduct in light of the Bowes case.
According to the decision issued on the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society website on Feb. 11, White has been suspended from practicing law for the month of March following a settlement from the society.
He has also agreed not to serve as a supervising lawyer for a two-year period and pay $15,000 towards the barristers’ society investigation costs.
According to an audit report done by Grant Thorton on the firm as part of the Bowes investigation, White removed $8,371 from an account belonging to a client’s estate, of which he was the executor.
White was acting as the power of attorney for the same client and also prepared a new will in June 2012 for the client, which included specific gifts to the client’s financial advisor, his administrative assistant and a friend, with the remainder of the estate going to the Nova Scotia Humane Society. White says that the client later wanted to change the will to make White the sole beneficiary, but White says he refused. White also told the society that the client repeatedly told him that he wanted White to have the money in a specific account, which became property of the estate after the client’s July 2013 death.
The bank account was not listed on the state inventory he filed with the probate court in November 2013.
“While Mr. White admits he should not have taken this money, he says that due to his personal circumstances at that time, he failed to recognize that the nature of the account had changed upon Mr. W’s death. He says that at the time, he felt that because Mr. W had wanted him to have the money from the account, there was nothing improper in him taking it. He now agrees he had no right to do this,” the settlement states.
At the time, White was caring for his ailing wife and did not get much sleep.
The funds were repaid to the estate on Aug. 29, 2014.
It was also found that he had received undeclared cash fee payments on some client matters and carried out a property transaction between the same client’s estate and his son and daughter-in-law, creating a conflict of interest.
According to documents from the NSBS hearing panel, White lowered the asking price for a log house in Falmouth below its tax assessment and private appraisal price due to the structure’s need for repair. He also failed to disclose to the bank that he was acting on behalf of both the purchaser and the seller.
White’s late wife acted as the real estate agent representing their son and daughter-in-law.
The society’s investigation also determined that White had shared a password to Property Online with his legal assistant and allowed her to carry out work restricted to lawyers.
The investigation by the society also showed that there were numerous deficiencies in banking and accounting practices at How Lawrence White Bowes, the law firm owned by White, which resulted in losses to the firm’s general account totalling $40,822, despite an apparent theft by a previous employee.
The findings prompted the society to open three different complaints against White, all of which were resolved through the settlement agreement.
He also confessed to several other offences including accepting cash payments that were not properly recorded for tax purposes. The society’s hearing panel, which handled the investigation, lists an example where White received a cash payment of $1,500 from Bowes.
The panel said these complaints occurred during a time when White was under significant personal stress, as his wife was in the terminal stages of her ALS. This played a mitigating factor for his penalty.
White has a long history as a litigator in Nova Scotia, including his appointment as the director of the Workers’ Compensation Board of Nova Scotia in 2000. He also served on the hearing committee from the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society from 2005 until 2013.
“In this capacity, he was very aware of his ethical obligations as they related to the matters set out in this complaint,” the settlement reads.
The former journalist and publisher is also a past-president of the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Party.
The hearing panel accepted the settlement unanimously.
Neither Bowes nor White responded to an interview request.
What this means for the lawyers
“Whenever a lawyer receives a disciplinary finding, it disqualifies them from being able to serve as a principal or supervising lawyer with an article clerk,” Rees said. “It just means they can’t train a lawyer for that amount of time.”
Rees said that this is a harsh penalty for any lawyer to face.
The reason why White’s time without the ability to employ a clerk is less that Bowes’ is because of the other measures in White’s settlement, including suspension, she explained.
Rees said Bowes’ ethical violations “were of a less serious nature than White’s.”
Rees added that these decisions are made transparent in order to protect the public.
More on the Nova Scotia Barrister's Society can be found here.