Nova Scotia

Lawyer Lyle Howe fails to show at former paramedic's sex assault sentencing

There are some days in the Nova Scotia court system that defy description. Friday was one of them. Lawyer Lyle Howe skipped the sentencing hearing for a former paramedic convicted of sexual assault because he was summoned to testify in another case.

Judge furious with another delay in James Duncan Keats sentencing

Lawyer Lyle Howe was summoned to testify in Halifax provincial court Friday, missing a sentencing hearing for a client convicted of sexual assault. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

There are some days in the Nova Scotia court system that defy description. Friday was one of them.

It started in the afternoon, with what was supposed to be a sentencing in a Halifax courtroom for former paramedic James Duncan Keats on two charges of sexual assault.

Keats was convicted at a jury trial in December of sexually assaulting two women in 2013 while on the job, but his sentencing had been delayed in the past because of a change in lawyers and an illness.

It was the case again Friday, when his lawyer, Lyle Howe, didn't appear. Howe sent Alexander Mackillop in his place.

Mackillop was admitted to the bar last week. This week, he faced the wrath of Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Felix Cacchione who told the newly minted lawyer: "Convey my displeasure with [Howe's] lack of attendance and his lack of compliance."

Cacchione noted that Howe had also failed to meet a deadline for submitting a brief to support his sentencing arguments.

Howe testifying in another court

Howe is already facing a disciplinary hearing before the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society, which accuses him of professional misconduct and professional incompetence. One of the central concerns is that Howe was often double- or even triple-booked in different courtrooms.

It seems on Friday he was indeed in another courtroom, but not in his normal role.

Howe had been summoned to testify in Halifax provincial court at a hearing dealing with a former client, Linda Fae Buchanan. Buchanan's case has been dragging on for years and she has gone through several lawyers.

Buchanan, the former head of a Halifax modelling agency, was represented by Howe when she pleaded guilty to fraud and theft in 2014. When she later asked to change her plea, Howe withdrew as her lawyer.

Buchanan complained about Howe

Buchanan subsequently complained about how Howe handled her file.

"I worked extremely hard for Ms Buchanan," Howe said during testimony Friday afternoon before Judge Anne Derrick.

"At no point did she ever express to me concerns."

Howe said, contrary to what Buchanan has suggested since, he was prepared to take her case to trial, if that had been her wish. He said he explained to her the advantages and challenges of either a plea bargain or a trial.

Howe's Nova Scotia Barristers' Society disciplinary hearing resumes later this month. Additional dates have just been added for that hearing in July and August. 

Keats's sentencing is now set for October.

Four women accused him at trial last year of sexually assaulting them as he treated them in the back of an ambulance or at a hospital emergency room.

After deliberating for three days, the jury convicted him on the evidence of two of those women. All the allegations stem from 2013.

In all, six women alleged Keats sexually assaulted them while he was on the job.

In June of last year, he was convicted of raping a 71-year-old Annapolis Valley women in her own home. He was sentenced to four years in prison for that attack.

Charges involving the sixth accuser were withdrawn.