Nova Scotia

N.S. Barristers' Society defends itself against criticism of Lyle Howe case

The Nova Scotia Barristers' Society will be reviewing its handling of the Lyle Howe professional misconduct and incompetence case. But the panel that booted the black lawyer from the profession is calling out the society for not making an admission on racism.

Society says Howe 'wouldn't agree to anything' and that drove the record-setting discipline hearing

A disciplinary panel is criticizing the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society for its handling of the Lyle Howe hearing. (Devaan Ingraham/The Canadian Press)

The Nova Scotia Barristers' Society is defending itself against criticism that it failed to acknowledge racism and that it overreached in its prosecution of African-Nova Scotian lawyer Lyle Howe during a disciplinary hearing that saw him disbarred after a record-setting 67-day hearing that racked up $1.1 million in costs.

Last week, a disciplinary panel disbarred Howe because it found he lied to lawyers, judges and clients, booked himself in multiple courtrooms in different cities on the same day, and was a poor record-keeper.

'We don't deny' racism 

But the panel also called out the society, the regulatory body for the legal profession, for its part in dragging out the hearing, and chopped the costs Howe has been ordered to pay to the society to $150,000 — one quarter of what it was seeking. 

In its 24-page finding, the panel said the society should have admitted that systemic racism exists instead of forcing Howe to call witnesses.

Darrel Pink, executive director of the society, said in an interview with CBC that the regulator wanted to reach an agreement with Howe on inherent racism within the judicial system. 

"We don't deny that it is a fact," he said, noting that part of the society's mandate is to tackle that issue.

Prosecution was 'inefficient'

But he said Howe refused to come to an agreement and alleged that individual judges and lawyers had been discriminating against him.

Pink said Howe's assertion is wrong. 

"The panel agreed — there was no evidence whatsoever that Mr. Howe in any of the particular incidents that we were dealing with was actually discriminated against," he said.

Darrel Pink, executive director of the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society, says Howe's behaviour contributed to the duration and expense of the hearing. (Nova Scotia Barristers' Society)

The panel also found the society's team of lawyers had been "inefficient" by spending "a great deal of time and energy" to prove Howe had overbooked himself.

And the volume of charges on professional misconduct and professional incompetence — there were approximately 40 — "suggested an overreach in prosecution," according to the panel.

Pink said at the outset, the regulator wanted to consolidate the charges against Howe, but he resisted.

"He wouldn't agree to anything. He wouldn't make any admissions in order to allow us to streamline the process," said Pink.

"We had no choice. We would've been guilty of a dereliction of our duty if we had not put before the panel all the instances of misconduct that we believed existed."

'He certainly didn't make easier'

Pink agreed the multiple charges might have the appearance of throwing the book at Howe, but he says the reality was different.

"He certainly didn't make it easier. The society believes the length of the hearing was very much driven by Mr. Howe's behaviour throughout the hearing," said Pink.

He said the society will be reviewing the case.

"No case that looks like that doesn't require somebody to stand back and say what happened here."

Lessons learned

But Pink said a few lessons have already been learned.

The society is developing legal services to support new lawyers before problems crop up with their practice.

Pink can't say with certainty whether that would've made a difference in Howe's case, "but we certainly would've been engaged with him before the first complaints came in."

Increasing diversity on future disciplinary panels is another goal.

But Pink added he has confidence in the work of the all-white panel that looked into Howe's case, citing their expertise in human rights and criminal justice.

All members of the bar must pay a $200 surcharge to help cover the $1.1-million cost of investigating and prosecuting Howe.

About the Author

Elizabeth Chiu is a reporter in Nova Scotia and hosts Atlantic Tonight on Saturdays at 7, 7:30 in Newfoundland. If you have a story idea for her, contact her at elizabeth.chiu@cbc.ca.