The Law Society of Upper Canada has revoked the licence of a Toronto lawyer convicted of sexual exploitation of two teenage sisters, the latest in a string of disbarments in the province.
Although the LSUC tribunal acknowledged that Peter Budd had previously been nothing but a “major, positive contributor to society,” he was found in a trial in London, Ont., to have exploited two vulnerable young people, the ruling last month said.
“For a lawyer to take advantage of that vulnerability is to bring the whole of the legal profession into disrepute,” Thomas Heintzman wrote on behalf of the hearing panel.
In 2006, Budd, a prominent energy and environmental lawyer, was found guilty of having sexual relationships with two sisters with whom he was in a position of trust and authority. They were between the ages of 14 and 18.
Budd was cleared of charges stemming from a relationship with a third sister. The trial judge believed that all three relationships were consensual, dismissing sexual assault charges against Budd.
In the late 1990s, the father of three “swept into the lives” of the mother and three daughters who “were wowed by this charismatic, exuberant, high-energy, generous, big-city lawyer, his financial and career success, and his partying lifestyle,” Superior Court Justice David Little said.
Budd then became a friend and confidant to the family, attending family functions and hiring the girls as employees.
“He introduced the daughters to big-city life. And he slept with all of them when they were over 14 and not yet 18,” the ruling said. Budd was in his early 40s at the time of the offences.
Over a period of a few years, Budd maintained sexual relationships with each of the three sisters.
He employed the middle sister, A.D., at his home and cottage and as a receptionist in his law office. She lived in his home for free, and he took her on a trip to England. He also took the other sisters to Walt Disney World and Toronto.
According to an agreed statement of facts, in 2004, Budd confessed to the girls’ mother, identified as Mrs. D, that he and her middle daughter “were falling in love or something to that effect.
The accused sought Mrs. D’s support. She became upset, and when the other daughters were advised of the reason for her upset, it was determined that the accused had sex with all three daughters. A family crisis ensued. The accused was confronted and admitted his actions.”
The judge ruled that Budd’s privileged position within the family compelled Mrs. D. to entrust him with the safety and well-being of her daughters.
“There is no doubt that the accused deceptively camouflaged the sexual nature of his relationship with A.D., at least in the beginning, and capitalized upon the trust position in which he found himself with [her], just as he had with [her sister].”
Budd was sentenced to nine months in jail. His appeal was later dismissed, as was his application for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.
After being in custody for about three months in 2007 and 2008, Budd served the remainder of his sentence in the community.
His disciplinary hearing took place over four days last March and September, when Janet Leiper, the respondent’s counsel, submitted several mitigating factors that the hearing panel acknowledged as valid.
Numerous personal and professional references introduced during the proceedings attested to the lawyer’s strong character as well as his previously unsullied disciplinary history.
Budd’s capacity to contribute to the profession was also unchallenged, while his likelihood to reoffend was estimated to be low.
“However, those factors do not sufficiently address and mitigate the distrustful, deceptive, and prolonged nature of the sexual exploitation of two young persons in this case,” Heintzman wrote.
The panel also rejected assertions that Budd had acknowledged his misconduct as well as evidence that he had apologized to the family of his victims.
“We are left with a lawyer who has had an outstanding career but who has committed a crime and serious misconduct for a member of the profession that is based upon principles of trust and the protection of the weak and vulnerable.”
The breach of trust placed in the lawyer by the mother and her daughters was ultimately the basis of his disbarment, according to the ruling.
In separate law society proceedings, two other Ontario lawyers have also recently lost their licences to practise.
London corporate lawyer Colin Cockburn was disbarred for professional misconduct after the panel ruled he practised law while suspended.
Cockburn admits to violating the LSUC’s guidelines.
“I finished off some files for clients,” he tells Law Times. “I can’t say I was treated unfairly.”
The law society had previously suspended Cockburn indefinitely for refusing to co-operate with an LSUC investigation and failing to produce documentation.
He says the initial probe related to a series of complaints for “non-communication” with clients.
“My problem with the law society started with me telling clients to take a hike,” he says. “By the time it got to the law society, I took the same attitude.”
He adds there was no money involved in any of the complaints against him and that he will continue to provide allowable services to his clients.
“I’m now very knowledgeable about what they consider practising,” he says.
Bill Wong, a Toronto lawyer, was also disbarred last month in relation to a number of violations, including misappropriation.
The panel ruled Wong had failed to protect the interests of a client, whom he represented regarding investments in a corporation in which the lawyer himself had an interest.
Without authorization, Wong also unilaterally amended a loan agreement to have $100,000 transferred from his client to himself, the law society said.
The ruling found fault with a number of cash withdrawals from his trust account for disbursements, one of which was fictitious while others had already been paid.
The panel also ordered Wong to repay the law society’s legal costs of $75,000.