The former area attorney was uncovered to have engaged in qualified misconduct by performing in conflict of curiosity, failing to talk with clients, not abiding by Lawful Help Ontario specifications, and failing to go to court on a lot of occasions above the training course of quite a few decades
THUNDER BAY — A when outstanding lawyer has been uncovered to have engaged in skilled misconduct and will have his license suspended for at the very least one a lot more year, but his counsel admitted he is unlikely to exercise law all over again.
Chris Watkins appeared just before a Regulation Society of Ontario Tribunal panel for a disposition listening to on Thursday. The panel, consisting of Jay Sengupta, Geoff Pollock, and Eva Krangle found the facts introduced in the disposition set up a discovering of expert misconduct and that Watkins does not at present have the capability to undertake the obligations of a law license.
The panel read specifics of 14 allegations in opposition to Watkins, some dating back again to 2005, with the vast majority of the more severe allegations happening in 2017 and 2018.
The first allegations date in between 2005 and 2011 when Authorized Support Ontario found out billing irregularities relating to Watkins perform as a legal support attorney in the quantity of $169,000.
Regulation Society of Ontario counsel Joshua Elcombe outlined that Watkins failed to abide by Lawful Support Ontario’s specifications and there was discovered to be circumstances of double billing, far more than 10 hrs of get the job done recorded in a day, insufficient specifics supplied, and billing for proceedings that did not take put.
“Repeatedly for a time period of approximately 6 years from 2005 to 2011, the respondent failed constantly and consistently to assessment the accounts submitted on his behalf to Legal Aid Ontario,” Elcombe reported. “Rather he delegated it to legislation clerks. It is apparent the regulation clerks built mistakes. Partly, this was owing to that he was frequently verbally reporting data to staff from the courthouse owing to his hectic workload.”
Elcombe extra that the Regulation Society is not alleging Watkins knowingly or deliberately over-billed Lawful Aid Ontario, but rather failed to overview the accounts submitted on his behalf.
Authorized Help Ontario was paid back roughly $150,000 but as of 2017, Watkins was still dependable for the remaining equilibrium of $19,000.
The remaining allegations using area between 2012 and 2018 involve Watkins’ handling of customers, miscommunication with clientele, failing to go to courtroom proceedings, remaining in conflict of interest, and failing to sustain financial documents.
One particular of the allegations incorporated Watkins currently being in conflict of fascination by symbolizing an accused shopper as perfectly as the complainant and a crucial witness in the exact same make a difference.
The accused was found responsible but because of to the conflict, the conviction was afterwards overturned on attraction.
One more allegation in-depth that Watkins settled a continuing in a court matter but not on the terms as outlined by the shopper.
Watkins also represented himself on 4 Provincial Offences Act costs for driving with a suspended license but failed to attend court docket on his personal behalf. He ultimately pleaded responsible and the expenses were being disposed of.
Other accusations include things like Watkins failing to respond to the Legislation Society and failing to maintain monetary documents.
The most reliable allegations in opposition to Watkins, specially in 2017 and 2018, were being quite a few failures to go to court and failing to shield his client’s passions.
Elcombe acknowledged that Watkins was working with numerous well being challenges all through this time period of time, like a compound use disorder, which may well have contributed to these allegations.
“All of the allegations have been admitted,” Elcombe said. “Although the respondent’s overall health issues have been contributing aspects and assist to clarify why the misconduct transpired, the reality is throughout this time period of time he was nevertheless working towards law and performing as a lawyer. The well being concerns are not a full protection.”
Elcombe added that Watkins unsuccessful to identify he was not serving his consumers properly in 2018 and failed to get measures to assure his client’s passions have been shielded.
Watkins’ license to apply law was suspended in Oct 2018 on an interlocutory foundation as the Regulation Society proceedings had been ongoing.
The Regulation Culture was also in search of a motion underneath Area 37 of the Law Culture Act to uncover that Watkins, from Oct 2018 and onwards, has been incapacitated and unable to fulfill the obligations of a license to practice legislation.
The panel agreed with the evidence and concluded the allegations of qualified misconduct and potential were proven.
A joint submission on penalty was presented by Elcombe and Watkin’s counsel, Tony Potestio.
Elcombe acknowledged there ended up many mitigating variables in Watkins’ case, which include him a short while ago remaining identified with focus deficit/hyperactivity ailment, his physical overall health problems restricting his mobility, and a compound abuse ailment relating to an opioid addiction just after becoming prescribed painkillers.
“That likely contributed to a lot, if not all, of the expert misconduct that took put in 2017 and 2018,” he explained.
Even so, Elcombe also outlined substantial aggravating things, like Watkins’ earlier discipline background and criticism from judges.
Relationship back as far as 1999, Watkins obtained at least 4 warnings from the Legislation Society of Ontario and judges for his failure to show up at court docket.
This involved one contempt of court cost in 1999 that was later on overturned and a 15-day suspension in 2001 for losing judicial resources, performing in conflict of desire, and failing to critique affidavits thoroughly.
“It’s noteworthy that the respondent has a historical past of inattention to his obligation and a heritage of failing to go to court and has received repeated warnings,” Elcombe reported.
When given the option to talk, Watkins thanked the panel for all their tough get the job done and apologized for his actions.
“A ton of it has been coming to phrases with matters,” he mentioned. “I offer my heartfelt and deepest regret to any one who was afflicted by my steps.”
Watkins added that he has been searching for therapy for his material abuse troubles and is volunteering in the local community. He is also measuring points extra studiously and usually takes a lot more time with what he involves himself in, admitting he formerly had difficulty expressing no to men and women and would typically take on very large workloads, which includes pro-bono function.
“I have taken a ton of ways and a large amount of tough function to ensure those people difficulties in no way transpire once more,” he claimed.
The joint submission encouraged a retroactive suspension of three years, which Elcombe admitted was far more symbolic in character, as Watkins has now been suspended for additional than four several years on an interloculary basis.
However, Watkins is under an indefinite suspension until eventually he is in a position to confirm his capability to observe legislation all over again.
If and when Watkins does prove his capability and chooses to follow law all over again, he will be issue to a one particular-calendar year punitive suspension ahead of being permitted to do so.
“The 1-calendar year suspension demonstrates to the respondent and the public that there has to be an real punitive element given the severity of the misconduct and that serious customers had been impacted and that there was harm to our authorized assist program,” Elcombe stated.
“It is honest to say the disposition reflects a harmony among, on the one particular hand, acknowledging there was some extremely substantial expert misconduct involving the lawful aid program and a lot of clientele, but on the other hand it reflects there are critical mitigating factors including considerable health challenges and major regret staying demonstrated by Mr. Watkins.”
If Watkins does resume training law, he will also be required to sign an endeavor that will impose additional limits and protections, with possible conditions including drug tests, professional medical reporting, restricted accessibility to believe in accounts, and only training as an staff of a law firm approved by the Law Society of Ontario.
Watkins was also requested to fork out fees in the volume of $10,000, with 4 many years to pay out.
Potestio mentioned the general public is becoming nicely served by the buy, but admitted it is not likely Watkins will at any time practice regulation all over again.
“The simple impact of the purchase is fairly onerous,” he mentioned. “Given his age, it will be tricky for him to get back into his apply presented the order of this hearings. And in small towns like Thunder Bay, it can be harming to a reputation.”