British Columbia

'I procrastinated,' says B.C. lawyer who sat on sex assault claim for 5 years

A Squamish, B.C., lawyer who agreed to represent an alleged sex assault victim in court and then did no real work on her case and ignored most of her messages for five years has been fined $10,000.

Douglas Chiasson of Squamish fined $10,000 for professional misconduct by Law Society of B.C.

Lawyer Douglas Chiasson accepted a $1,130 retainer to represent an alleged sex assault victim, then took no action on her case for five years. (Cliff MacArthur/provincialcourt.bc.ca)

A Squamish, B.C., lawyer who agreed to represent an alleged sex assault victim in court and then did no real work on her case and ignored most of her messages for five years has been fined $10,000.

Douglas Bernard Chiasson, who has spent 30 years as a lawyer in B.C., blamed procrastination for his lack of action on the planned civil lawsuit, according to a June 30 decision from the Law Society of B.C.

Meanwhile, "the client suffered undue stress, confusion and frustration. The client was deprived of five years in which the legal matter did not progress," the law society panel wrote, finding Chiasson guilty of professional misconduct.

According to the decision, Chiasson first met with the client on May 17, 2013, when he advised her to file a civil claim for sexual assault in small claims court.

This was the first time Chiasson had been involved in a sex assault case — his experience is mainly in family law, residential real estate, motor vehicle claims, and wills and estates. Nonetheless, he agreed to take on the case, and accepted a retainer cheque for $1,130 five days after his first meeting with the client.

For the next three years and four months, the client left voicemails and hand-delivered letters for Chiasson about her case, but received no reply until Sept. 16, 2016.

After that first response, the client continued emailing "with increasing frustration and urgency," according to the decision, but Chiasson "either did not respond or advised that a response would be forthcoming without following through."

Finally, on May 1, 2018, after Chiasson had taken "no substantive steps" on the file, the client filed a complaint with the law society.

Lawyer 'wholeheartedly embarrassed'

In a July 13, 2018 letter to the law society, Chiasson admitted he hadn't taken any action on the file and said there were "no excuses" for what he'd done.

"I am apologetic in my reply to the law society and wholeheartedly embarrassed by my inaction on the file," Chiasson wrote in an excerpt of the letter included in the law society decision.

"I procrastinated on this file and did not follow up with the client when I found myself incapable of handling the matter. In retrospect I ought to have returned the retainer then and suggested she approach new counsel to take on her matter."

Douglas Chiasson practises civil law in Squamish, B.C. (DBChiasson.com)

He admitted to law society representatives that "he had not previously acted on a civil sexual assault file prior to taking on the client's file, which was one of the reasons why the file was not being worked on," the decision says.

According to the decision, Chiasson has personally apologized to the client and returned her retainer.

The law society notes that Chiasson has had previous issues with procrastination, including a 2013 citation for failing to communicate with another client for 17 months as well as two similar complaints filed in 2006.

Chiasson will have until May 21, 2021 to pay his fine, along with $1,000 in costs.

About the Author

Bethany Lindsay

Journalist

Bethany Lindsay is a B.C. journalist with a focus on the courts, health, science and social justice issues. Questions or news tips? Get in touch at bethany.lindsay@cbc.ca or on Twitter through @bethanylindsay.

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