Halifax lawyer Lyle Howe disbarred, ordered to pay $150K
Nova Scotia Barristers' Society committee cites Howe's repeated 'dishonesty and lack of integrity'
Halifax defence lawyer Lyle Howe has been disbarred by a disciplinary committee of the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society and ordered to pay costs of $150,000.
The three-member panel said Howe cannot reapply to practise law for five years in a ruling released Friday.
The decision on penalties caps the longest and most expensive disciplinary hearing in recent Nova Scotia legal history, one that involved more than 60 days of hearings spread out over a year and a half.
In July, the panel ruled Howe was guilty of professional misconduct and professional incompetence. An additional hearing was held last month to determine the penalty Howe would face for his conduct.
'Dishonesty and lack of integrity'
In Friday's decision, the panel wrote that it took to heart arguments that Howe, who is black, made about the need for more African-Nova Scotian judges and lawyers in the province's legal system.
"Simply put, we decided that if we could address those principles in any way short of disbarment, we should do so," the ruling says.
"Unfortunately, we have been unable to come to that conclusion. Mr. Howe's dishonesty and lack of integrity, as continuous and repetitive as it was, leaves us with no option but to rule that disbarment is necessary."
The panel was scathing in its assessment of Howe's conduct.
"A lawyer who conducts themselves with such little regard for honesty and such little regard for following the regulation of his governing body cannot be permitted to continue in practice," the panel wrote.
"To be a lawyer, you must act like a lawyer. Mr. Howe did not."
Barristers' society criticized, too
However, the barristers' society did not escape unscathed. The disciplinary panel criticized the society for not admitting problems with systemic racism and forcing Howe to take time and call witnesses to make that point.
The panel also found the society did not do enough to clearly and concisely summarize its complaints about Howe being overbooked and double-booked in courts around the province.
The society had asked that Howe be ordered to pay between $450,000 and 600,000 in costs. The panel instead ruled it should be $150,000 and included a provision that Howe make payments of $20,000 a year for five years, followed by a lump-sum payment of $50,000 if he applied to practise law again.
Howe says he will appeal
Contacted by CBC News, Howe said he did not wish to comment on the ruling itself, but repeated his concerns about the makeup of the three-member panel.
"I think that members of the community should be wary of accepting decisions from an all-white panel," he said.
Howe added he would "most definitely" appeal the panel's decision.
When asked for further comment, Howe referred CBC News to a number of prominent African-Canadians for their thoughts. One of them, Toronto defence lawyer Selwyn Pieters, said disbarment was too harsh.
"His case is not a case like some of the cases we have in Ontario where hundreds of thousands of dollars that are lost by clients due to various dishonest conduct of lawyers and some of those lawyers don't get disbarred, they get suspended for three months, four months, sometimes even two months," Pieters said.
Pieters followed Howe's disciplinary hearing closely through social media.
He noted Howe had previously been found guilty of sexual assault, a conviction that was later overturned on appeal. Pieters likened Howe's situation to that of O.J. Simpson, who was acquitted of murdering his ex-wife, Nicole Brown, but received a harsh sentence for robbery in a separate case.
"The courts slammed him really hard and a lot of commentators felt that O.J. was subjected to such a harsh probably as payback for the acquittal in the Nicole Brown situation. I mean, who knows?"