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Hunter accused of professional misconduct

|Written By Helen Burnett

The Law Society of Upper Canada filed a notice of application late last week against its former treasurer George Hunter, which will lead to a hearing into allegations of professional misconduct.

Former Law Society of Upper Canada treasurer George Hunter acted in a conflict of interest in relation to a client, the Law Society alleges.

The notice of application states that the Law Society intends to apply to the Hearing Panel for a determination of whether Hunter contravened s. 33(1) of the Law Society Act by engaging in professional misconduct.

Hunter resigned as treasurer of the Law Society in December 2005 after just five months in the position, for "family-related and other personal reasons."

The Law Society alleges that Hunter acted in a conflict of interest in relation to a client referred to only as JH.  According to the notice of application, Hunter allegedly "began a sexual/romantic relationship with JH, while retained by her in a family law matter, without adequate disclosure of the circumstances that could make a conflict of interest likely such that JH could make an informed decision that she consented to your continued representation of her in the circumstances of a sexual/romantic relationship or with respect to entering into a sexual relationship with you."

According to the notice of application, "on November 21, 2005, immediately before revealing to JH that you had been involved in sexual/romantic relationships with other women during the course of your sexual/romantic relationship with her, you had JH review and initial a copy of Rule 2.04 of the Rules of Professional Conduct of the Law Society of Upper Canada and had her sign an Acknowledgment relating to the relationship between you and JH, which Acknowledgment was to the effect that you had complied with Rule 2.04 in your relationship with JH, without recommending that she seek independent legal advice as to whether she should sign the Acknowledg-ment and in circumstances where it was not practical for JH to obtain independent legal advice with respect to signing the Acknowledgment or with respect to her relationship with you."

Rule 2.04 of the Law Society Rules of Professional Conduct refers to the avoidance of conflicts of interest.

The notice of application goes on to allege that "by entering into and continuing a sexual/romantic relationship with JH, while retained by her in an emotionally charged family law case, you jeopardized your ability to act objectively in the best interests of JH and compromised her ability to properly advocate on behalf of her daughter and be comfortable with challenging your advice."

The Law Society also alleges that by conducting himself in such a manner, Hunter failed to maintain the integrity of the profession.

Further allegations are that between Nov. 28 and Dec. 1, 2005, Hunter "phoned and emailed JH on numerous occasions in an attempt to have her confirm to your lawyer and to your law partners that the nature of the sexual/romantic relationship between you and JH was as you described."

Also, according to the Law Society, on Nov. 30, 2005, Hunter "attended at JH's home, without prior notification, seeking to speak with her to have her confirm to your lawyer and to your law partners that the nature of the sexual/romantic relationship between you and JH was as you described, and thereby caused concern and emotional distress to JH."

In an interesting twist, Hunter chaired a Law Society hearing panel in 2004 into the professional misconduct of a member. While the allegations in that case were different, as the member, Gary Neinstein, was before the panel for allegations of sexual harassment, the panel commented that:

"It is in the interest of both the public and the profession to ensure that lawyers meet high standards of conduct. The reputation of a lawyer is of paramount importance to clients, to other members of the profession, to the judiciary and to society as a whole. A lawyer's practice is founded and maintained on the basis of a good reputation reflecting professional integrity and trustworthiness.

The solicitor-client relationship is premised on the concept of trust between the solicitor and the client. An integral aspect of that trust is that the lawyer will not abuse his/her position of relative power over the client. The extent of that power is determined by the degree of dependence and vulnerability that is found in varying levels in any such relationship. Sexual harassment constitutes a breach of trust and professional misconduct."

Hunter is currently on extended leave of absence from his position as senior partner in the Ottawa office of Borden Ladner Gervais. Law Times tried to contact Hunter and the Ottawa managing partner of BLG but neither could be reached for comment.

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