A former B.C. lobbyist who admitted to bribing a public official says he’s ready to get on with his career after a Law Society of Upper Canada panel ruled he had the good character necessary to practise law in Ontario.
In a decision released late last month, the panel ruled 2-1 in Erik Bornmann’s favour after three days of hearings.
During his mid-20s, Bornmann, now 35, was a Liberal party power broker who played a key role in the British Columbia Railway Co. scandal that prompted raids on the province’s legislature.
Between 2001 and 2003, while lobbying on behalf of U.S.-based OmniTRAX Inc., one of the bidders looking to purchase BC Rail after the provincial government decided to privatize the company, Bornmann made payments totalling about $28,000 to Dave Basi, a ministerial aide in the Liberal government. Many of the payments happened while he was a law student at the University of British Columbia.
Bornmann eventually became a vital witness in the prosecution of Basi as well as his brother-in-law and fellow ministerial aide Bob Virk after making a deal with the RCMP to co-operate with them in return for immunity from prosecution.
“I’m just really grateful and I’m humbled by the panel’s decision and looking forward to the privilege of being a lawyer,” Bornmann tells Law Times. “I’m keen to start working and on becoming the best lawyer I can be.”
Since the decision, Bornmann has returned to the Orillia, Ont.-based Community Legal Clinic. He had worked there since June 2007 as a student-at-law until the criminal proceedings wrapped up.
Basi and Virk finally pleaded guilty in October 2010 to two counts each of breach of trust and accepting rewards or benefits. They each received sentences of two years’ house arrest for the offences, which paved the way for Bornmann’s hearing to begin.
“My hope and my plan is to continue in the legal aid clinic system,” Bornmann says.
In testimony at the hearing, Bornmann described his past behaviour as arrogant and immoral and said he had fallen into a pattern of “exchanging favours” in his dual role as lobbyist and power broker.
As well as the cash paid to Basi, Bornmann arranged for OmniTRAX to cover his and Virk’s expenses for a trip with their families to Denver to watch a football game and meet company executives. Bornmann also put in a good word for the two men with federal Liberal contacts he knew from his involvement in former prime minister Paul Martin’s leadership campaign.
In exchange, Basi and Virk gave Bornmann confidential information about BC Rail’s financial affairs, bids from OmniTRAX’s competitors, and details gleaned from their discussions with government officials.
Bornmann told the panel that in December 2003, his life became “a nightmare” when RCMP officers raided his office. He quickly sealed a deal with prosecutors to gain immunity in exchange for appearing as a Crown witness in the case.
But the notoriety of the case came back to haunt him in 2005 after he graduated from the University of British Columbia’s law school and he was passed over for articling positions at prominent B.C. firms once they learned of his involvement in the scandal.
Bornmann managed to land an articling position at McCarthy Tétrault LLP in Toronto in January 2006 but didn’t fully disclose the extent of his role in the scandal. After the firm found out, it agreed with Bornmann that he should resign after completing just six months of his articles.
Bornmann, who later completed his articles at the legal clinic in Simcoe County, told the panel the experience had a transformative effect on him.
“It has been absolutely cathartic,” he said. “If I had to use a single word for my time at the clinic, I would say it has been saving. I mean, there are so many layers of regret and shame to my conduct, conduct that has led me here today. I get sick thinking about it.”
After completing his articles, Bornmann stayed on as a student-at-law under supervision. In addition to his legal work, he manages the web site for the clinic’s employment law program. He also was involved in developing its Portal to Justice web site that helps pinpoint legal issues and sources of assistance for unrepresented litigants who fall outside the clinic’s mandate.
Colleagues at the clinic who testified on Bornmann’s behalf said they were impressed with his commitment. At the same time, the majority of the panel was convinced that he had turned himself around.
Panel chairman Thomas Conway, for example, wrote that Bornmann’s resignation from McCarthys had brought him to a fork in the road. After occasional relapses “into his old ways,” he had been “forced to confront the disgrace” that he had brought on himself and his family. His remorse appeared “genuine and profound,” according to Conway.
“He could leave behind his ambition of becoming a lawyer and pursue a different line of work or he could persist, which at that time was clearly the harder path to take,” wrote Conway.
“After more than four years of a consistent history of hard work, ethical conduct, and a commitment to professional service to vulnerable and disadvantaged clients, Bornmann has earned the privilege of being admitted as a lawyer in good standing of the law society.”
But the third panel member, Andrew Oliver, was less convinced of Bornmann’s transformation in his dissenting decision. While Bornmann testified that his shame for his actions had prompted his offer to co-operate with police, Oliver disagreed.
Those statements “are clearly self-serving and constitute an ex post facto rationalization of reprehensible behaviour,” Oliver wrote. “That the Bornmann of 2005 should have had an epiphany about himself, his behaviour, and the society in which he wanted to live is simply not credible.
The reality is that he had been caught in his illegal schemes and that the only way of saving his own skin was to throw his soon-to-be former friends under the proverbial bus.”