Halifax lawyer reprimanded for $1.5M mortgage gaffe

Lawyer N. Kent Clarke didn't secure a $1.5-million mortgage against 20 properties for nearly a year, and failed to communicate the situation to his client.

N. Kent Clarke's misconduct took place while he was acting for 2 unnamed companies

Halifax lawyer N. Kent Clarke has been reprimanded by the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society for professional misconduct in 2014 and 2018. (Bloise, Nickerson & Bryson)

Halifax lawyer N. Kent Clarke has been reprimanded by the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society for incompetence and professional misconduct for failing to properly secure a $1.5-million mortgage in 2016.

Clarke is a partner at Halifax firm Blois, Nickerson & Bryson, where he is listed as the firm's IT and technology partner, and a senior member of its wills and estates practice group.

Clarke's misconduct took place while he was acting for two unnamed companies, referred to in the discipline report as ABC Ltd. and NS Loan Co.

1 mortgage, 20 properties

Clarke's job was to secure the $1.5-million mortgage from NS Loan Co. by registering it against 20 properties owned by ABC Ltd.

But the 20 properties first had to be entered into Nova Scotia's digital land registry, which often involves a complicated and onerous title search.

Against instructions, Clarke released the $1.5 million to ABC Ltd. before the mortgage was registered.

The mortgage was unsecured for close to a year.

Risks of not securing a mortgage

"If there is no mortgage recorded, the owner could sell or otherwise encumber the property thereby defeating, or jeopardizing, the lender's claim against the property," wrote Tilly Pillay, the executive director of the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society (NSBS) in a statement to CBC News.

Clarke did not inform NS Loan Co. of the problems for over six months.

He then avoided answering repeated inquiries from NS Loan Co. about the status of the mortgage, which wasn't registered until late June 2017.

Tilly Pillay, the executive director of the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society, wouldn't say whether the society would be offering support or guidance to Clarke moving forward. (Sherri Borden Colley/CBC)

Clarke consented to the reprimand, which says he failed to be competent, failed to communicate clearly with his client, failed to do his job conscientiously and diligently, failed to be honest and candid, and, "failed to recognize limitations in his own ability to handle the transaction."

"In retrospect, an alternative and proactive strategy ought to have been employed to avoid later communication issues," Clarke wrote in an email to CBC News. He declined an on-camera interview.

Clarke said he's accepted responsibility for the case.

2nd reprimand in 4 years for Clarke

This is the second time in four years Clarke has been reprimanded for professional misconduct with elements of incompetence.

In 2014, Clarke consented to a reprimand by NSBS after allowing a client's lawsuit against Metro Transit to lapse by failing to respond to a notice from the court.

According to the 2014 discipline notice, the client, whose husband had been killed by a Metro Transit bus, never understood her lawsuit had been dismissed, even though she met with Clarke every 90 days for 2½​ years.

That discipline report said Clarke failed to be competent, honest, candid and misled his client about the status of her case.

"There was no loss or prejudice to the clients in either unrelated matter," said Clarke.

The barristers' society won't say if it will provide support or guidance to Clarke moving forward.

"The society can't speak to Mr. Clarke's specific case, as the professional responsibility process is a confidential one, with the exception of public hearings," said Pillay.

About the Author

Jack Julian

Reporter

Jack Julian is a data journalist in the Halifax newsroom. This is a new position, and he's excited about it. He likes surprises in his stories. Email: jack.julian@cbc.ca Twitter: @jackjulian