One of Canada’s top corporate ethics lawyers has been suspended from practising law for providing damaging information about her client, high-profile journalist turned political candidate Arthur Kent, to a newspaper columnist during the 2008 Alberta election.
A Law Society of Alberta panel agreed Monday to a joint submission of a four-month suspension after Kristine Robidoux admitted, in an agreed statement of facts, she breached confidentiality.
'It is nearly beyond comprehension that this email exchange took place.'- law society panel chair Doug Mah
Robidoux, a long-time Conservative party supporter, admitted she provided then-National Post columnist Don Martin with damaging and misleading internal campaign emails and other information, even though she knew Martin intended to write a negative column about Kent.
“It is an unfortunate day in the legal profession in Alberta when one of its most prominent lawyers disgraces herself and her profession,” said Doug Mah, who chaired the law society panel.
Martin used the information to write a scathing column that derided Kent, the provincial Tory candidate in Calgary Currie. In the column, he referred to the internationally-known war correspondent as the Scud Dud, a demeaning reference to his nickname as the Scud Stud.
Even after seeing the column, and realizing it was “unbalanced and wholly negative,” Robidoux admitted she did not attempt to set the record straight with Martin.
In subsequent civil court proceedings, Martin voluntarily named Robidoux as well as Tory insiders Rod Love and Alan Hallman as his sources for his column.
Kent also sued Love, Hallman and others alleging a conspiracy to harm his reputation but the lawsuits were dismissed as being without merit.
Through a formal letter Monday, Robidoux, for the first time, apologized to Kent, saying not a day goes by where she doesn’t wonder what prompted her to act in the way she did.
But Robidoux did not personally apologize to Kent and declined comment either in the hearing or outside. Her lawyer would say only that she accepted the panel’s findings and sentence. Her suspension from Gowlings, the law firm where she is a partner, begins immediately.
Outside the hearing, Kent said he was relieved to be vindicated by the investigation and hearing.
"It's a dark day to understand that politics is a bloodsport in this province,” he said. “That people at the top of their profession - in this case, the legal profession - who are connected to the Progressive Conservative party, could believe that character assassination is a practical tool to use in an electoral contest.
The law society hearing pitted one of Canada’s top former journalists against one of the country’s most high-profile corporate lawyers.
After a career in Canada, Kent became a foreign correspondent for NBC, rising to international prominence, and earning the nickname of Scud Stud, for his coverage of the Persian Gulf War in 1991.
In 2013, Canadian Lawyer magazine named Robidoux one of Canada’s 25 most-influential lawyers, in large part due to her handling of high-profile international corruption cases involving corporate clients.
In 2011, Robidoux defended Calgary-based Griffiths Energy after it was charged with bribing the Chadian ambassador to Canada. The charge resulted in the largest settlement - $10 million – in the history of the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act.
“Her proactive approach to dealing with investigations, by trying to display good-faith cooperation with authorities, has helped her clients mitigate the fallout from game-changing corruption charges,” the magazine wrote.
No wrongdoing admitted
But Robidoux’s approach to the complaint from Kent has been marked by an unwillingness, until Monday, to admit any wrongdoing whatsoever either in court, where she is being sued by Kent, or to the law society.
According to court documents and the law society agreed statement of facts, Robidoux was Kent’s campaign legal counsel when he ran for the Tories in Calgary Currie in the 2008 provincial election.
Despite this, Robidoux admitted she leaked internal information to Martin, who now hosts Power Play, an Ottawa-based political talk show on CTV.
In one email exchange, entered as evidence at the hearing, 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 began crying as the prosecutor read aloud the series of incriminating emails between herself and Martin. She dabbed her eyes with a balled-up tissue throughout the rest of the foreshortened hearing. It had been scheduled for five days and seven witnesses, including Martin, had been subpoenaed to appear.
“It is nearly beyond comprehension that this email exchange took place,” panel chair Doug Mah told the hearing, adding that Robidoux, who holds a Queen’s Counsel designation, should have known better and should have held herself to a higher standard.
Robidoux admitted Monday that even after she learned the internal problems with the campaign had been resolved, she did not tell Martin. She also admitted she did not tell Kent, his campaign manager, or the Tory party, that she was the insider source for the Martin column.
“Not only was there a breach (of confidentiality),” Mah said, “there was also an element of cover-up.”
Kent forces Law Society to act
For Kent, Robidoux’s admission to the law society charges on Monday marked the end of a nearly three-year battle to obtain justice from the law society.
Kent filed his complaint against Robidoux in July 2011. The law society investigation completed its investigation in June 2012.
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 society to act, one way or the other, on his case.
Four days later, the law society provided a timeline to Kent on the condition he drop his application. A month later, on Feb. 13, 2013, it filed charges against Robidoux.
Kent is still suing CanWest, which owned The National Post and Calgary Herald, Don Martin, and Robidoux. The trial is expected to begin Jan. 12, 2015. He is also suing CanWest’s successor company PostMedia for continuing to publish Martin’s original column on its websites.
An earlier version of this story said Martin "readily" named Robidoux, Rod Love and Alan Hallman as sources for his column. Martin voluntarily named them.May 28, 2014 11:32 AM MT