New Brunswick

Organizer of NDP exodus was suspended by law society, disqualified from party leadership

Joyce Richardson, who helped instigate a botched defection of several New Democrats to the New Brunswick Green Party, says she turned to the Greens after being disqualified from running for the provincial NDP leadership earlier this year.

Joyce Richardson says she turned to the Greens after being disqualified from NDP leadership race

Joyce Richardson (right) stands with Green Party leader David Coon (centre) and her son Jonathan at a press conference earlier this month. (CBC)

The woman who helped instigate a botched defection of several New Democrats to the New Brunswick Green Party was once suspended from practising law in the province and was later disqualified from running for the provincial NDP leadership, CBC News has learned.

Joyce Richardson and her son Jonathan, a former member of the federal NDP executive, organized the Sept. 3 news conference that announced the defections.

"It was mostly me and Jonathan," she said.

At that news conference, Jonathan Richardson released a list of 14 former NDP election candidates, including his mother, who he said were switching to the Greens. The number turned out to be exaggerated. 

Joyce Richardson told CBC News she looked to the Greens after she was disqualified from running for the provincial NDP leadership earlier this year.

NDP officials won't say why she was disqualified during the vetting process, which was handled by the federal party on the New Brunswick party's behalf.

"It is an internal party matter," said spokesperson Nathan Davis.

Legal troubles

Publicly available court rulings show Richardson was suspended from practising law in 2010 by the New Brunswick Law Society, which enforces the code of professional conduct for lawyers.

Other rulings show that her performance as a lawyer was criticized by judges in three different cases. 

"Some of the court cases might be when I first started to practise," said Richardson, who graduated from law school in 2000.

"Sometimes when you first start to practise, sometimes you make errors. Actually you make errors all the time, because that's what being human is about." 

Richardson said the New Brunswick NDP executive didn't give her any reason for her rejection after vetting her. 

She said she told the party about her legal troubles, just as she did when she ran provincially for the NDP last year and when she sought the party's federal nomination in 2015.

She said it didn't make sense that the suspension would count against her in 2019 if it didn't count against her during previous vettings.

In 2003, Justice Marc Richard of the New Brunswick Court of Appeal called Richardson's handling of a case "egregious" and said he was "troubled by the total disregard" she had for the rules of court.

His comments were in a ruling on Richardson's appeal of a decision in a client's custody case. The judge set out eight examples of her failing to follow proper procedures. He called her work "below the standard" of lawyers who appear at the appeal court.

Three years later, Justice Margaret Larlee also criticized Richardson for not filing the required documents in a divorce case and for not filing on time. Larlee said in her ruling the appeal had been "a waste of time" for the other side.

The same year, Court of Queen's Bench Justice William Grant said Richardson "breached the standard of care" for a lawyer when she failed to advise a client on the Kingston Peninsula that he'd have to pay deferred taxes on a parcel of land he was buying.

Richardson was later suspended by the New Brunswick Law Society. She told CBC News she had missed the deadline for paying her annual dues because she couldn't afford them. 

Richardson was living in Ontario at the time but was still a member of New Brunswick's law society. She said she worked as a paralegal in Ontario and took a client's small claims case to court — which a paralegal is allowed to do in Ontario but not in New Brunswick.

"At the time it never dawned on me to look at the New Brunswick law," she said.

She attributed the lapse to being in what she called "a very abusive relationship" at the time.

"I think the stress I was going through made it really hard for me to perform to the best of my abilities. I wasn't in a state of mind of actually doing anything that would be productive."

Richardson says she doesn't understand why she was disqualified from running for the provincial NDP leadership earlier this year. (CBC)

The law society launched a disciplinary action against her for practising law while suspended, and in 2010 handed her a new five-month suspension. Richardson challenged the suspension but it was upheld by the New Brunswick Court of Appeal.

The society's registrar of complaints said she could not comment on Richardson's disciplinary case. The law society's website now lists her as "non-practising" rather than suspended.

Richardson said she ultimately met the society's conditions to end her suspension and returned to practising law. But five years ago, after a near-fatal motorcycle accident, she decided to stop practising.

She said she realized that working as a lawyer was not the best way to work on issues that mattered to her, such as children in abusive homes, senior care and the rights of children with disabilities. 

"I realized that I don't have any voice in the law, because it's the judges that have the final say," she said. 

Foray into politics

Instead she turned to politics and got involved with the NDP. She said she looked at running for provincial party leader in 2014, when then-leader Dominic Cardy resigned. But the party rejected his resignation and he stayed on, so there was no leadership race.

She also tried twice to be nominated as a federal NDP candidate in 2015, in Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe and in Beausejour. She said she was approved during the vetting process both times but failed to win the nominations.

And she considered running for provincial leader in 2017 but opted against it when Jennifer McKenzie declared.

"I backed away from that," said Richardson. "I decided, 'she should be the leader.'"

The NDP won no seats in last year's election and McKenzie's leadership was put to an automatic review vote at a party convention in February. She lost, 52 votes to 43. 

Danny Legere, a member of the NDP's provincial council, said Joyce and Jonathan Richardson appeared to be the driving force behind the result.

"There were evidently two camps" at the February meeting, Legere said, and one was "a pro-Joyce camp."

But Richardson said she didn't orchestrate the anti-McKenzie vote.

"I made sure some people got there, but I wasn't the main organizer," she said. She didn't urge people to vote for review, she added.

"A lot of people, I told them vote for whoever you want to vote."

McKenzie's removal meant a new leadership race. Richardson filed paperwork but was rejected after she was vetted.

She said she disclosed her law society suspension with the provincial party executive and doesn't see why it would count against her when it hadn't before.

"The point is that I've been vetted three times, the last time being last year, and all of a sudden they decide not to [approve] me."

Legere says he "absolutely" sees a link between Richardson's rejection and her move to the Greens.

Richardson says she was relieved to be rejected. When the NDP failed to approve any leadership candidates and postponed the race, it became clear the party was not the vehicle for her to advance her goals, she said.

"When I can't see the vehicle to get there with the NDP, I can get there with the Greens," she said. "That's the only reason I decided to change from the NDP to the Greens."

'Someday I'll run for the Greens'

The Sept. 3 news conference announcing the 14 defections got a lot of attention because it came just weeks before the expected start of the federal election campaign.

But it quickly became apparent the exodus wasn't as big as advertised. By Friday the Greens said only eight of the 14 former candidates were switching.

Two former candidates staying with the NDP told CBC News that Joyce Richardson had claimed the news conference was about the two parties merging or making a co-operation deal, something she denies.

Last week New Brunswick Green leader David Coon, who attended the announcement, said he should have personally checked that all the supposed defectors were actually switching.

He said Joyce Richardson and her son Jonathan would not be playing a prominent role with the New Brunswick Greens.

"For now, they have not expressed interest in playing any roles besides being members," he said in a statement.

But Richardson says she hopes to run as a Green candidate someday so she can continue to work on the issues that got her into law and into politics. 

"Someday I'll run for the Greens if they let me run, I guess," she said. "Through everything that happened last week, it's difficult."


Jacques Poitras

Provincial Affairs reporter

Jacques Poitras has been CBC's provincial affairs reporter in New Brunswick since 2000. Raised in Moncton, he also produces the CBC political podcast Spin Reduxit.