Halifax defence lawyer Lyle Howe pleaded not guilty Thursday to seven charges of professional misconduct and professional incompetence before a disciplinary committee of the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society.

The society dropped an eighth charge that accused Howe of trying to steal a client from another lawyer.

This is a "difficult and unfortunate case," said lawyer Marjorie Hickey, acting on behalf of the barristers' society.

The charges are very serious and could lead to the young criminal lawyer being disbarred. 

Halifax lawyer Laura McCarthy

Halifax lawyer Laura McCarthy is the wife of Lyle Howe and is appearing as counsel with him at his disciplinary hearing. (CBC)

The society alleges Howe demonstrated professional misconduct and professional incompetence from 2011 and 2014 by double or triple-booking himself in court, poorly documenting his client's files and providing poor quality of service.

Clients, lawyers, Crown attorneys and even at least one provincial court judge, Anne Derrick, raised concerns about Howe.

Sex assault trial

He is also accused of misleading the court in proceedings before Nova Scotia judges Timothy Gabriel and Alana Murphy.

The timeframe of the allegations coincides with the period when Howe was facing sexual assault-related charges, said Victoria Rees, director of professional responsibility for the society.

Howe was found guilty of sexual in March 2014, but his conviction was overturned on appeal. He is awaiting a decision from the Crown on whether he will be retried on the charge.

The barristers' society was concerned with how he was coping with the pressure of criminal charges, Rees testified. Senior lawyers, and a race and culture expert — Howe is black — were asked to provide assessments in connection with the issue.

Reese testified that in a conversation with Howe, he told her felt he was being targeted by police.

Howe, who has two other lawyers including his wife on his legal team, also represented himself during the hearing on Thursday. His wife, Laura McCarthy, shares a practice with him.

Howe's wife on legal team

The panel is expected to rule Friday on whether Howe and McCarthy can continue to act as legal counsel during the hearing, given witnesses could include their former clients and they themselves could be witnesses.

Hickey said it would be inappropriate for McCarthy to cross-examine former clients.

Jeanne

Jeanne Sumbu is also on Lyle Howe's legal team.

Jeanne Sumbu, who is on Howe's legal team, told the panel that McCarthy will be the lead lawyer and step down from that role if she's called as a witness. 

"Ms. McCarthy's role as a potential witness is unclear and really has to do with how broad the charges are," Sumbu said outside the hearing.

"In this profession, we are expected to act objectively, and I don't doubt that she has the ability to step away from some of her maybe more personal feelings."

Sumbu said McCarthy's personal relationship with Howe has only helped case preparation so far.

Numerous complaints

The complaints against Howe fall into seven categories:

  • Failing to act honourably and honestly with clients, colleagues and other members of the profession.
  • Failing to apply the right knowledge and skills to his job.
  • Failing to follow advice on how to properly run his practice.
  • Continuing to represent clients even when he was in a conflict of interest.
  • Failing to treat the courts with "candour, courtesy and respect."
  • Claiming things were true when it was not reasonably supported by evidence.
  • Improperly trying to persuade a witness not to testify against his client.

One charge under the barristers' society code of professional conduct alleges Howe failed to be honest about a plea agreement and told a client it had been reached when it was only under consideration.

Barristers' society executive director Darrel Pink said the disciplinary hearing is public, but the names of clients may be subject to a publication ban. However, evidence from those clients will be a matter of public record.

The barristers' society is expected to call about 12 witnesses, including Crown prosecutors and other lawyers. 

On Thursday morning, Howe's mother and another man supporting Howe attended the hearing.