Surrey lawyer Thomas Paul Harding has been fined $15,000 by the B.C. Law Society after admitting he signed off on a child custody agreement his client never saw or approved.

The fined stemmed from a family proceeding in 2011 during which Harding signed off on a child custody order on the wife's behalf without reading it carefully.

Thomas P Harding

Thomas P. Harding practices law in Surrey, B.C. (Trial Lawyers Advocacy Group)

That order granted the husband access to their child every weekday morning. The problem was his client, the wife, had never agreed to the terms or even seen the terms he was consenting to on her behalf.

Harding would later say that he failed to read the final order closely and did not notice that the number of days had been revised from three to five by the husband's lawyer.

Shortly afterwards when the husband arrived to pick up the son one morning, the wife refused, saying she had never agreed to the terms.

Instead she demanded Harding have the agreement revised to three mornings a week, as she had actually agreed.

But the husband refused, and in the ensuing legal battle Harding ended up blaming the husband's lawyer for 'fraudulently" altering the terms of the order.

Dropped wife as client

Later, he would suddenly drop the wife as a client the day before a court hearing, leaving her to represent herself.

When she demanded Harding cover the legal costs of fixing the agreement he refused, until the Law Society stepped in and reminded him of emails he had sent in which he promised to do so.

In the end the society's discipline committee found him guilty of professional misconduct at several points in the case, including:

  • Failure to provide his client with an acceptable quality of service in six instances.
  • Failure to recommend his client obtain independent legal advice in two instances.
  • Failure to provide his client with reasonable notice of withdrawal.

A hearing panel with the Law Society agreed with the decision, noting his professional conduct record contained four prior citations of misconduct, including a 'troubling" 2014 case that was "very similar."

Harding was fined $15,000 and ordered to pay his clients costs of $2,125. He also agreed to cover his former clients legal cost for the incident.