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Misleading clients gets lawyer month-long suspension

A Summerland lawyer was suspended for a month and fined for misconduct, according to the Law Society of British Columbia. Photo courtesy of The Law Society British Columbia
February 06, 2013 - 4:22 PM

A Summerland lawyer was fined $6,448 and given a one-month suspension for misleading clients and poor service.

Lawyer Thomas John Johnston, 61, failed his clients several times during a 2008-2009 legal case tried in Penticton, according to the Law Society of British Columbia.

The society ruled Johnston was acting in the best interests of four clients but based on the evidence he did “contradict his clients' instructions and at times obviously misled his clients.”

The society also said, “A member of the public is entitled to expect that his or her lawyer will follow his or her instructions.”

The society's investigation discovered Johnston failed his clients by not doing what he was told. His clients wanted to go to trial as quickly as possible, but Johnston's office failed to file a trial certificate on time and failed to get new trial dates. Johnston also made an offer to settle, but the settlement and its terms were not what his clients wanted. When his clients found out about the settlement, Johnston failed to scrap it when told to do so.

Johnston was also guilty of telling the court his clients would provide a general release, when they gave no such order, misrepresenting how court procedure works and not providing the clients' new lawyer their case file in a reasonable amount of time.

The society's citation against Johnston's was issued Dec. 15, 2011. The investigators learned when Johnston was hired on or about Dec. 19, 2008, he knew the trial was set for Feb. 23, 2009.

On Jan. 8, 2009, one of the clients spoke with Johnston's legal assistant and confirmed instructions to schedule examinations for discovery as soon as possible. The clients did not want the trial to be delayed or canceled. These instructions were given to Johnston, who asked for permission to settle the case. The clients told him to go to trial on Feb. 23, 2009. Unfortunately, discovery examinations were not completed before Feb. 23. and a trial certificate was not filed on time. This meant no trial on Feb. 23.

Later that year, Johnston then offered a counter-offer to the opposing lawyer. One of Johnston's clients saw the letter. Johnston was told to stop but the lawyer did not withdraw the counter-offer.

On May 4, 2009, Johnston's legal assistant secured potential trial dates but the proper forms were not filed.

The clients were also led to believe, based on their lawyer's advice, the court could force them to settle with possibly unfavourable terms.

In April 2009, Johnston had still not set a trial date, despite his clients' original wish.

On or about Aug. 24, 2009, Johnston's clients hired a new lawyer. Their problems with Johnston did not end there.

On Sept. 25, 2009, the clients' new lawyer wanted Johnston to release the clients' file immediately. The new lawyer asked several times for this information. The new lawyer did not get the files until Nov. 16 and even then they were not complete. Johnston handed over the remaining files on Dec. 9.

The law society learned that Johnston has no prior discipline issues and has admitted to a number of the allegations made against him. There is also no evidence Johnston's former clients were hurt financially by his misconduct.

Johnston was ordered to pay $6,448 to the society and his one-month suspension was set to begin Feb. 1.

News from © iNFOnews, 2013

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