Double standard for province's Law Society, former journalist alleges
Threatens court action to force change
A former high-profile journalist and failed provincial Conservative candidate Arthur Kent is accusing the Law Society of Alberta of stalling, for political reasons, his complaint against a Tory-connected Calgary lawyer.
"Are there two sets of laws in this province for those lawyers with connections to the Progressive Conservative party, and then laws for the rest of us?" Kent asked in an interview with CBC News.
"It is obvious from my experience that if I was bringing a complaint against a sole practitioner - that is, a lawyer who runs his own operation and who isn’t politically connected - this would have been over a long time ago."
Kent’s public anger toward the law society relates to his complaint against Calgary lawyer Kristine Robidoux. According to court documents, Robidoux was Kent’s campaign legal counsel when he ran for the Tories in Calgary Currie in the 2008 provincial election.
Candidate’s lawyer leaked information to columnist
But despite this, court documents allege Robidoux leaked information to then National Post columnist Don Martin. Kent contends that information helped form the basis of a column which derided Kent and fatally undermined his candidacy. The lawsuit has yet to be heard in court and none of its allegations has been proven.
In one email exchange, Martin says to Robidoux: "I see the death spiral for (Arthur Kent) continues? Any more dirt? Column runs tomorrow. Hugs. (Don).
Robidoux responds by providing more information to Martin, including that: "The premier is making an announcement in an hour – specifically requested (Arthur Kent’s) attendance there, to have a chat. He ‘declined.’ Wowzers. It is all bad."
Robidoux subsequently claimed she was not acting as Kent’s lawyer at the time but a civil-court judge rejected that claim, saying she practically "begged" to be his lawyer. In her statement of defence, Robidoux said she "did not forward any untrue, misleading or confidential information to Martin."
To the contrary, Robidoux claimed in her statement of defence that she "communicated with Martin for the sole and proper purpose of ensuring that he would not publish any untrue or misleading information about the PC Party, the Calgary Currie campaign and its candidate."
Kent however, considers Robidoux’s actions to be a serious breach of solicitor-client privilege and is not only suing her, he also filed a complaint with the law society in July 2011. The law society investigation was completed in late June 2012.
"After the investigation was completed, [I received] very little by way of explanation," Kent said in an interview. "It was just, ‘Oh, we’re taking care of this, but we just can’t tell you when we’re going to have anything tangible, or when the next steps will be taken.’ And that was the explanation given to me in August of 2012, and again in November of 2012."
Kent forces Law Society to act
By January 2013, six months after the investigation’s completion, the law society still could not tell Kent when, or even if, it would act against Robidoux. Fed up, Kent took the extraordinary step of filing an application with the Court of Queen’s Bench seeking to force the Law Society to act, one way or the other, on his case.
"And the amazing thing is, within four days, I had someone from the law society writing with a timeline, describing when things were about to happen," Kent said. "And asking me, ‘Please discontinue your application.’"
Kent agreed to discontinue the court application only after he said he received assurances that Robidoux’s case would be forwarded to the law society’s disciplinary committee. But he now says the law society is again refusing to provide any information about if or when Robidoux will be charged and what, if anything, she will be charged with.
Law society executive director Don Thompson is barred by law from speaking about specific cases, but generally, he rejected any suggestion that the law society is politically, or otherwise, biased.
"If I speak publicly about any of those matters, I run the risk of prejudicing the prosecution," Thompson said in an interview. "I don’t think that is good for the public. I don’t think that is good for the complainant. I don’t think that is good for the reputation of the legal profession. I just don’t think it’s good for our process."
Law Society asserts independence
This is the not first time the Law Society’s political independence has been questioned.
In November, CBC News revealed Premier Alison Redford had personally chosen a Calgary law firm with close personal and political ties for a potentially lucrative contract to sue tobacco companies on behalf of the province.
A political firestorm erupted in the legislature, during which Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson raised doubts about whether a complaint to the Law Society related to the tobacco-litigation issue would be treated independently, since the incoming president of the Law Society was Carsten Jensen, a partner in the firm chosen by Redford.
In response, the Law Society of Alberta issued a news release, saying it was "important that the public has a clear understanding of how the independent complaint process works.
"We’re completely independent from government," executive director Don Thompson stated, adding later that, "we’re acutely aware of our duty to the public whose interests we serve. No conflict of interest will be tolerated and furthermore, we owe it to the public to ensure our processes are fair, but they are seen to be fair."
But in Kent’s affidavit seeking a court order against the Law Society, he detailed a conversation he alleges he had with Katherine Whitburn, the Law Society’s complaints manager. Kent said it raises questions about Thompson’s statements related to conflict of interest and independence in his November news release.
In the affidavit, Kent said he asked Whitburn what steps, if any, would be taken to ensure none of the three members on Robidoux’s hearing panel – if such a hearing were ordered – were Conservative-party supporters.
"Ms. Whitburn responded that any or all of the three benchers on the Conduct Committee panel might be PC members," Kent’s affidavit states. "PC party-affiliated Benchers could recuse themselves if they wished, but the [law society] would not require them to do so, on the basis of their political ties and activities.
"Ms. Whitburn further informed that she purchased a PC party membership to vote for Alison Redford Q.C., who is a member of the [Law Society], in the party’s 2011 leadership election."
But Whitburn told Kent any complaint against Robidoux would be dealt with under the Law Society’s professional code of conduct, "separate and apart from political factors."
Since Kent withdrew his application, his statements in the affidavit have not been proven.