A Winnipeg defence lawyer with a troubled work history has dodged being disbarred for drawing up a fake bill for the benefit of a client.
Manitoba's Court of Appeal ruled Tuesday that David Guttman will be allowed to continue practising law, but he must serve a one-year suspension.
Guttman was ordered disbarred by the Manitoba Law Society last summer after an investigation and internal hearing. He pleaded guilty to a charge of professional misconduct.
Guttman — a veteran lawyer who has handled many high-profile criminal and civil cases over the last 20 years — immediately appealed the society's ruling to the province's highest court and has been continuing to practise.
In a 26-page ruling written by Justice Martin Freedman, the appeals court struck down the society's punishment and suspended Guttman from being a lawyer for one year.
A date that his suspension will begin has not been set.
He and his own lawyer had argued for a 45-day suspension, a penalty Freedman said was unacceptable.
"Such a disposition would render virtually meaningless [Guttman's] prior disciplinary history," Freedman wrote. "Anything less than a six-month suspension would be seen as regressive, and correctly so."
In his decision, the judge stated that Guttman was cautioned by the law society for "threatening and intimidating witnesses on two occasions" less than a year after he was called to the bar in 1986.
In the early 90s, Guttman pleaded guilty to a number of charges of professional misconduct for failing to appear in court and attempting to mislead a magistrate, Freedman wrote.
It wasn't until 2006 that the allegation that led to his disbarment surfaced, when he falsified a bill for a client.
Illness, stress caused behaviour
At the subsequent Law Society hearing, Guttman's lawyer stated that extreme stress brought about by a family illness and becoming the sole caregiver for his two children while involved in a high-stakes murder trial "led him to give into the temptation to try and recover more money for his client."
More than 20 letters of support from fellow lawyers and members of the public were filed on Guttman's behalf, many of them noting the extreme stress he was under at the time from his personal circumstances.
Guttman himself took responsibility for what he'd done, Freedman said.
The law society ultimately ruled that Guttman failed to prove his life stress and misconduct were linked. No medical evidence was presented at the hearing.
But during the appeal process, Guttman consulted a psychologist for an assessment that backed up his claims.
"Without question, these stressors have impacted on his better judgment and undoubtedly have contributed, very significantly, to his current difficulties with the Law Society," his doctor wrote in a report.
Freedman found it was the society's responsibility to properly explain why it didn't accept Guttman's stated reasons for the misconduct.