Court rejects appeal from Winnipeg lawyer disbarred for misappropriating $82K

A Winnipeg lawyer found guilty of misappropriating more than $82,000 from clients will remain disbarred after his request for an appeal was denied.

Law Society of Manitoba found James Graeme Earle Young guilty of professional misconduct

The Law Society of Manitoba disbarred Winnipeg lawyer James Graeme Earle Young last fall. He lost an appeal of that decision this week. (CBC)

A Winnipeg lawyer found guilty of misappropriating more than $82,000 from clients will remain disbarred after his appeal request was denied.

In a written decision published Tuesday, Manitoba Court of Appeals justices Richard Chartier, Freda M. Steel and Diana M. Cameron dismissed James Graeme Earle Young's application for an appeal.

Young was disbarred in 2017.

Kris Dangerfield, CEO of the Law Society of Manitoba, said the group is pleased the Court of Appeals sided with the findings of the law society disciplinary panel.

"The conduct that the member was found guilty of was very serious conduct," she said.

During the appeal, the law society filed a motion to block publication of the proceedings or ban members of the public from attending, but the group later withdrew that request.

Some of the complainants have applied for and received reimbursement through a Law Society of Manitoba fund that is set aside for clients who become victims of misappropriation, said Dangerfield.

Guilty of 10 charges

The law society disbarred Young last fall after its disciplinary panel found him guilty of numerous incidents of professional misconduct over a four-year period.

Young was found guilty of, or admitted to, 10 charges that led to his disbarment, including three charges of misappropriating a total of $82,436.57 from three clients between 2011-15.

He pleaded guilty in two of those cases and was found guilty in another.

He was also charged by the law society with two counts of breach of trust; one count of misleading clients; three counts of failing to comply with conditions of his of undertaking; and one count of "providing false information to the Law Society of Manitoba," according to court documents.

Young was previously ordered to pay about $42,000 to the law society.

Grounds of appeal

He raised 32 grounds for appeal, including two counts of misappropriation for which he was found not guilty.

Two parties who registered complaints against him later withdrew them, and Young contended the law society panel erred in continuing to review the complaints after they were dropped.

"He claims that proceedings on this baseless complaint unduly influenced the panel with respect to the other matters before it," the justices write, summarizing Young's position.

The law society panel alleged Young had "inappropriately diverted" funds earmarked as retainers for his services into his personal, rather than corporate, bank account, court documents say. But Young maintained the money was repayment for a prior loan.

The parties dropped their complaints and declined to co-operate with the review, but the law society disciplinary panel felt the issue still warranted scrutiny, given the circumstances.

Though the panel later dismissed both charges, the judges noted the law society was right to press on even though the two complaints were withdrawn.

"The respondent's claim that the panel was unduly or improperly influenced because of hearing evidence on the complaint is without merit," the judges write. 

Young also appealed a charge of providing false information to the law society, which was related to a charge of misappropriating funds from a client. The judges upheld the law society panel's findings.

'Fog of depression'

Young also filed a motion to allow new evidence to be considered, namely a recent psychological report. He argued the misappropriations were the product of "mere oversight," technical issues or "carelessness, incompetence or the consequence of an overworked lawyer functioning in a fog of depression," court documents state.

The law society opposed the request, as did the judges.

They cited principles of law that typically prohibit the introduction of fresh evidence at appeal "that could have been presented in the first instance," court documents say.

"We agree with the law society that the fresh evidence motion is an attempt by the respondent, who was represented by experienced counsel, to bolster his case from an unfavourable ruling in which deliberate decisions were made not to [use] this type of evidence," justices Chartier, Cameron and Steel write.

Young also appealed on the grounds that he feels his disbarment was unreasonable, and that a suspension was warranted instead.

Again, the judges shot that argument down and sided with the law society panel.

Booted from law school

Between 2011-14, Young worked for the Winnipeg firm Restall & Restall LLP.

He had previously pleaded guilty to 19 professional misconduct charges stemming from incidents between 2012-14. That resulted in a suspension from practising law for eight months, between July 2015 and March 2016.

Young also admitted during the course of the hearing in early 2017 that he had been tossed from the University of Calgary law school for cheating, Dangerfield said.

He went on to graduate from the University of Manitoba law school in 2004. 

Young's lawyer, Gavin Wood, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

About the Author

Bryce Hoye

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Bryce Hoye is an award-winning journalist and science writer with a background in wildlife biology. Before joining CBC Manitoba, he worked for the Canadian Wildlife Service monitoring birds in Manitoba, the Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia and Alberta. Story idea? Email bryce.hoye@cbc.ca.