Nfld. & Labrador

St. John's lawyer Averill Baker disciplined for f-bomb tirade

An outspoken St. John's defence lawyer has been disciplined by the law society for her profanity-laced tirade with a provincial court clerk.
St. John's defence lawyer Averill Baker has been reprimanded by the law society for berating a court clerk in 2011. (CBC)

An outspoken St. John's defence lawyer has been disciplined by the law society for her profanity-laced tirade with a provincial court clerk.

According to the law society tribunal's ruling, the telling-off occurred in July 2011 after the lawyer, Averill Baker, was contacted by the clerk about an application Baker had faxed on behalf of a client.

Baker, a 10-year veteran of the Newfoundland and Labrador bar, noted it was time-sensitive and involved a homicide case that was getting a considerable amount of media attention.

According to the law society's Friday ruling, the clerk called Baker to discuss issues regarding the specific legislation that the application should be filed under. But a disagreement ensued, during which Baker shouted and unleashed a barrage of f-bombs in what was described as a threatening voice.

According to the facts, Baker stated that when she made an appearance in provincial court later that week, she would "f--king embarrass everyone down there" because "none of you know what the f--k you're doing."

Less than a month later, during an unrelated court proceeding, Baker was overheard making an "inappropriate comment" about the same court clerk. Neither that comment nor the specific homicide case were identified.

In its ruling, the law society tribunal acknowledged Baker was advocating for the rights of her accused client and was concerned about delays associated with the filing of the application.

"(But) while these circumstances might help to explain her frustration on the occasions in question, it does not excuse that conduct," stated the ruling. "With respect, most lawyers work under stressful circumstances, and frustrations can often run high. If anything, such circumstances are common, not rare or unusual."

The tribunal found Baker guilty of conduct deserving of sanction for failing to act with integrity, failing in her duty of lawyer as advocate, failing in her responsibility to the profession generally, and failing to avoid questionable conduct.

Hearing held

A public hearing was held on the matter in August 2013, during which a deal was reached that saw three of the four charges withdrawn, in exchange for a guilty plea to her failing of lawyer as advocate.

"If the public is to have respect for the courts and the legal system, then that respect must be fostered and promoted by the words and deeds of each and every member of the legal profession," the tribunal stated.

"A sanction is necessary for purposes of both general and specific deterrence. As a self-governing profession, the legal profession must strive to treat the courts, including court clerks and court administrators, with courtesy and respect. This obligation applies regardless of whether the lawyer's communications with court staff occur in a court room in front of a public audience or in private over the telephone or through email or similar correspondence."

In the end, Baker was reprimanded, but it's unclear what that entails. She was also ordered to issue a written apology to the court clerk in question within a month, and pay all costs incurred by the law society for the investigation and hearing of the complaint.

The law society also cited mitigating circumstances, noting the guilty plea could be taken as Baker's acceptance of responsibility for her actions, and that she had no prior record of being disciplined.