High-profile Saint John lawyer Rodney Gillis has been sentenced to 22 months in jail for attempting to obstruct justice.

Gillis, who was found guilty of obstruction of justice for trying to stop witnesses from testifying against his client in January, could have faced up to 10 years in prison.

Judge Irwin Lampert called Gillis's case a "tragic one."

"Mr. Gillis' actions must be denounced and denounced loudly," the judge said.

Gillis will begin serving the sentence immediately.


Rod Gillis, a prominent Saint John lawyer who was sentenced on Thursday for obstruction of justice, is appealing his conviction. (CBC)

He embraced his wife Judy and children briefly before being led out of the courtroom by sheriffs.

Gillis said he has already filed an appeal of his conviction.

"I expect to be in court again," he told CBC News.

The case against Gillis dates back to 2009 when he was representing former Liberal MLA Frank Branch in a civil lawsuit against the North Shore Forest Products Marketing Board and on criminal charges of fraud and extortion.

He has also been suspended by the Law Society of New Brunswick from practising law pending a disciplinary hearing.

Supporters stunned by sentence

When Lampert started Gillis’s sentencing, he called it a "difficult task."

The judge also called Gillis's obstruction of justice conviction "an act of self-destruction" and described it as "sad."

Gillis supporters were stunned by the sentence, including former Saint John councillor John Ferguson, whom Gillis successfully represented in a five-year defamation battle with the city's pension board.

"It’s shocking and time to think about exactly what was said," Ferguson said outside the courthouse.

Lyn MacKay said "everybody was devastated, including Rod.

"We all just looked at each other with tears in our eyes," she said.

But not everyone was disappointed. Alain Landry, who had accused Gillis of the crime at his trial, said the sentence was just.

"The legal profession is not above the law here in New Brunswick and that's something to be very, very proud of here in New Brunswick today," he said.

Gillis' distraught relatives left the court without offering any comment..

Crown recommended up to 36 months

Crown prosecutor Peter Craig had recommended a prison sentence of between 30 and 36 months.

Craig said Gillis's actions were serious and were "premeditated and by design."

Maria Henheffer, the defence lawyer, asked the judge for a conditional discharge, saying her client’s offence was at the low end of seriousness.

She also pointed out how Gillis has lost his law practice and reputation, which she said was a serious punishment.

However, Lampert ruled out Henheffer's request for conditional discharge. The judge said it would "send out exactly the wrong message."

Lampert also ruled out a sentence of more than two years, which eliminates federal prison time. The judge said that would be "not appropriate".

Lampert said a conditional sentence or house arrest is also not appropriate. The judge said a "custodial sentence" or jail time is required in Gillis's case.

There were several Gillis supporters from Saint John in the Bathurst courtroom, including Ed Farren, who drove four hours to attend.

"He has done a lot of very good work on behalf of people who have encountered some very strong problems — and quite often he’s done it free of charge," Farren said.