Lawyer Lyle Howe tells hearing of personal history with justice system

The disciplinary hearing for suspended Halifax lawyer Lyle Howe is now expected to continue into the new year.

Howe accused by Nova Scotia Barristers' Society of professional misconduct and professional incompetence

The disciplinary hearing for suspended Halifax lawyer Lyle Howe is now expected to continue into the new year. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Suspended Halifax defence lawyer Lyle Howe testified Wednesday about his personal history on both sides of the justice system, delving into family history that includes a grandfather shot by police for breaking into his own vehicle. 

The Nova Scotia Barristers' Society is accusing Howe of professional misconduct and professional incompetence. If found guilty, he could be disbarred.

 Howe has testified in his own defence for three days this week. 

On Wednesday, he described how his upbringing has shaped his opinion of the justice system.

Howe told the hearing his grandfather was shot by police while trying to break into his own car. He'd locked his keys inside and Howe said police shot him without question.

Howe said his own first encounter with police was when he was arrested for stealing a jacket. But Howe said his mother had bought him the jacket and police had jumped to the wrong conclusion.

Howe said he felt isolated in law school and testified that in his first year, someone used the n-word in class which tainted his whole law school experience.

Often offering long, rambling answers to the short questions posed by his own lawyer, Howe said he articled with a big downtown law firm, but wasn't offered a full-time position so he went to work for smaller firms.

Howe said he had a falling out with his first boss over money. He said he left a second law firm when the senior partner told him that he'd heard Howe was about to be charged with several criminal offences. Howe said the other lawyer was "freaking out" and they agreed to part company.

Howe was subsequently charged with sexual assault and administering a noxious substance. He was convicted of sexual assault, but the conviction was overturned on appeal.

Howe said he built his own practice in the hallways of courthouses where people would approach him, asking that he represent them. He said black people were especially glad to see him because there are so few black lawyers practicing criminal law in Nova Scotia.

Howe said while some other defence lawyers were civil to him, others seemed threatened by the competition he posed. He said he was viewed as a "client poacher". He said one lawyer refused to talk to him, telling him he was a "train wreck" who was "going down."

Howe said he also had poor relations with all crown prosecutors in the Halifax area, some worse than others. He said their treatment made him feel marginalized, and believes he was treated differently because he is black.

Howe spent much of his time on the stand trying to decipher his court calendar from years ago, looking at days when he appeared to be double-booked.

Howe said the calendar alone isn't a good gauge, claiming it was created to help him keep court dates at the time, not help him defend himself years later.

Howe also said other lawyers are also double-booked and late for court, but he's the only one being singled out for discipline.

 Next week, he'll face cross-examination by lawyers for the Barristers Society. On Wednesday, the society lawyer indicated that cross examination would be lengthy.

The hearing is expected to push into the new year. The three-member panel hearing the complaints against Howe had hoped to wrap things up this month but on Wednesday, the panel said that is now impossible.

Panel chair Ron MacDonald said it would be unfair to expect Howe to go directly from testifying to making his closing arguments. They have now set aside two days in early January for those arguments.

The panel has 60 business days after the end of the hearing to deliver their verdict, although MacDonald said it might be difficult to meet that 60-day deadline.

CBC reporter Blair Rhodes was live blogging from the hearing