'It's about equality': Former defence lawyer Lyle Howe appeals disbarment
'If anything would motivate me to get up and keep fighting it's the oppression of black people'
Former Halifax defence lawyer Lyle Howe is in a Nova Scotia courtroom Wednesday for the first time since he was kicked out of the legal profession.
He is appealing the decision by the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society to disbar him.
That decision in October 2017 followed the longest and costliest disciplinary hearing in the society's history. A three-member panel found him guilty of professional misconduct and professional incompetence.
But Howe is arguing that the decision to disbar him is flawed and violates his equality rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
"So, to me, it's not about the money, it's not about practising law, it's about equality," he said in an interview prior to the start of the appeal hearing.
"And if anything would motivate me to get up and keep fighting it's the oppression of black people. I've got two kids and I want them to inherit a better Nova Scotia than what I did in the sense that it treats you in a fashion that's equal before the law to how they would treat white people."
Howe said while he misses the financial security of practising law and the satisfaction of representing people in court, he has soured on much of the profession.
Used time away to refocus
He said his time away has forced him to refocus.
"My identity was based on me being a lawyer and I worked extremely hard and put my all into being a lawyer," he said.
"I neglected pretty well every aspect of my life for a long period of time. But at this point my main interest is my kids."
Howe said even if he is successful in his appeal, he's in no hurry to return to the legal profession because he believes many of the problems he encountered still exist.
The disciplinary panel that decided his fate acknowledged systemic racism, and even chided the society for forcing him to call evidence to prove its existence.
But the panel found that did not override Howe's failure to be completely honest and transparent with other members of the legal profession, including judges.
In his brief to the Court of Appeal, Howe reiterates many of the arguments he advanced during his disciplinary hearing — that he was singled out for more intense scrutiny of the way he ran his practice than other lawyers.
'Blown out of proportion and mischaracterized'
He continues to maintain that the only difference between him and other lawyers who made similar missteps is that he is black.
"So for other lawyers, it was seen as, 'This is just how we do business, this is just normal and it's no big deal,"' he said.
"When it was me, the significance of the situation was blown out or proportion and mischaracterized."
Hoping for a stay
Howe singles out a senior official with the barristers group and members of Nova Scotia's Public Prosecution Service for his disbarment.
He said they aggressively pursued compiling evidence against him in a way that hasn't been done with any other lawyer facing discipline.
Howe said hostility from prosecutors reached a peak when he was charged with sexual assault. He was convicted of that charge, but that conviction was overturned on appeal.
He said while he wouldn't wish to go through it again, that experience actually helped him.
"It helped me be more patient in terms of life," he said. "It helped me put things in perspective in terms of not allocating so much importance to practising law. It's not the end of the world if I can't go and practise law."
He said the best result he could expect out of this court hearing is a stay of the society's proceedings against him.
He is scheduled to make his arguments on Wednesday. The barristers society is expected to offer counter arguments on Thursday.
A decision is likely some months after that.
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