Nova Scotia

Desmond inquiry lawyer Adam Rodgers given one-year suspension for professional misconduct

The lawyer representing Lionel Desmond's estate at the fatality inquiry probing the circumstances leading up to the veteran killing his family and himself has received a one-year suspension after being found guilty of professional misconduct connected to the collapse of his old law firm.

Rodgers has asked that the suspension be delayed until the fatality inquiry has ended

Adam Rodgers has been given a one-year suspension by the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society disciplinary panel. (Laura Fraser/CBC)

The lawyer representing Lionel Desmond's estate at the fatality inquiry probing the circumstances leading up to the veteran killing his family and himself has received a one-year suspension after being found guilty of professional misconduct connected to the collapse of his old law firm.

Adam Rodgers had been facing potential disbarment at the request of the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society, but in a decision released Tuesday a disciplinary panel instead called for one-year suspension, beginning on July 1.

That, however, would interfere with the fatality inquiry, a process that is still ongoing more than four years after Desmond shot his wife, Shanna, his mother, Brenda, his daughter, Aaliyah, and then himself at a home in Upper Big Tracadie, N.S.

"The Desmond family is very upset by this," Rodgers said in an interview Tuesday. "There's a risk that the inquiry will be disrupted after being delayed, and after the amount of effort that went into having it called and established in the first place, they would be very upset if their lawyer was not able to represent them."

Rodgers said he has already made a request to the disciplinary panel to change the start date of his suspension in order for him to finish the inquiry first.

He had indicated earlier this winter that he would appeal the decision if he were to be disbarred. He said in an interview Tuesday that he would not likely appeal the suspension as long as the panel granted his request to finish his work with the fatality inquiry.

The Boudrot Rogers law firm in Port Hawkesbury shut down in October 2018. At that point, Rodgers is alleged to have learned that his law partner, Jason Boudrot, had been stealing from clients' trust accounts.

Although Rodgers was found guilty of professional misconduct, the disciplinary panel said it did not believe that he had stolen any of his clients' funds himself or helped his law partner to do so. 

In the written decision from January, however, the panel suggested he was negligent — as he should have been aware of what was happening "and thereby failed to preserve and protect clients' property."

Rodgers must also pay for the costs of the investigation and the disciplinary against him, which amount to $12,000. He must repay at least $4,000 of that before he can return to practice after his suspension.

He said he plans to return to his practice after the suspension has lifted, noting his concerns for his clients during his absence. Rodgers said many of his clients are marginalized.

"This is going to have a big impact on them and all the people I represent," he said. "It's a difficult thing for this area, for access to justice, and for my clients in particular."

After his previous firm had to declare bankruptcy, Rodgers started a new firm in Antigonish. 

The barristers' society reached a settlement agreement with Boudrot in September 2019. While he did not admit guilt, Boudrot agreed to be disbarred.

The RCMP has launched an investigation into Boudrot, but has not laid any charges.

Testimony at the Desmond inquiry

The Lionel Desmond inquiry continued this week with testimony from a New Brunswick firearms officer who was involved in reviewing the veteran's gun licence after he failed to disclose that he had post-traumatic stress disorder.

Joe Roper, a former area firearms officer in New Brunswick, testified Tuesday that he became involved in the review of Desmond's licence in 2014 when a call to one of his references mentioned that the Afghanistan veteran had PTSD.

But despite that omission — and an attempt at suicide a year later — Desmond got that licence back, passing two separate firearms reviews at different times.

The CBC's Laura Fraser was liveblogging the inquiry:

In each case, doctors signed off on the reviews, including his Canadian Forces psychiatrist, Dr. Vinod Joshi, in 2014 and two years later, Dr. Paul Smith, a family doctor in New Brunswick who was treating Desmond with medical marijuana.

Roper testified he did not know when reviewing the case in early 2016 that Desmond had a new psychiatrist and psychologist, both of whom were recommending him for in-patient psychiatric treatment at Ste. Anne's Hospital in Montreal. 

Lionel Desmond is shown here in this family photo, with his mother, Brenda, left, and daughter, Aaliyah, right. (Submitted by Cassandra Desmond)

When asked by the judge whether that information would have changed the outcome of the review, Roper acknowledged it would have. 

Judge Warren Zimmer said he could ask similar "obvious" questions but he presumed the answers were equally clear. Zimmer has, in the past, noted how decisions concerning Desmond's well-being were hampered by the bureaucracy of him seeing different health-care professionals who worked for different public institutions.   

The fact that their collective data about Desmond — and his more than five years of psychiatric treatment and symptoms — was not available in one place is an issue the judge is expected to make recommendations about in his final report to prevent future deaths of this kind.

Roper also told the judge he felt it would be useful to educate doctors about the weight that firearms officers, who grant gun acquisition licences, give to a physician's assessment of a person's mental illness.

At the time of Desmond's two reviews, the form sent to doctors had little more than two boxes in which a doctor indicated "yes" or "no" for their recommendation.

The area firearms officer said he altered the forms he sent out, indicating that comments were required, but most doctors didn't fill them out.