Judge dismisses claim against Law Society of New Brunswick

A judge has thrown out a claim against the Law Society of New Brunswick that a lawyer brought after the regulator suspended him before an appeal of his criminal conviction was heard.

In Gillis v. Law Society of NB, Justice Judy Clendening, of the Court of Queen’s Bench of New Brunswick, summarily dismissed lawyer Rodney Gillis’ claim as it was filed outside a two-year limitation period and the law society is immune to such actions.

The law society’s complaints committee suspended Gillis after he was convicted of wilfully attempting to obstruct, pervert or defeat the course of justice in a judicial proceeding in 2013. He was sentenced to 22 months in jail, but appealed the conviction.

He later launched his claim against the law society after the New Brunswick Court of Appeal ordered a new trial in his case. The law society then lifted his suspension.

Gillis’ claim was against the regulator, its executive director, Marc Richard, and its registrar of complaints, Shirley MacLean.

Richard had filed the complaint against Gillis after he was convicted, as the judge in the matter had held that the lawyer, who is based in Saint John, N.B., had violated a number of the rules of the law society’s Code of Conduct.

MacLean then referred the matter to the complaints committee.

In his claim, Gillis argued the committee merely rubber stamped the trial judge’s finding and alleged Richard had made defamatory statements in the complaint, knowing they were false.

He claimed that the executive director’s conduct was negligent, and that the registrar had violated his charter rights by referring the complaint to the complaints committee without conducting an investigation.

He added that the law society was vicariously liable for the conduct of the director and registrar and that the regulator had failed to continue to investigate the matter during the 18 months he was suspended.

The law society sought parts of the statement of claim be struck because they were allegedly vexatious or did not have a reasonable cause of action. The regulator also requested the claim be dismissed summarily as the law society is subject to immunity pursuant to section 110 of the province’s Law Society Act.

Clendening found the claim was statute-barred, as Gillis did not launch his claim until Sept. 19, 2016, which was more than two years after the Court of Appeal delivered its decision in his case. The judge found that the date of the decision was the very last moment that the two-year limitation period would start to run.

The judge also found that there was no evidence Richard and MacLean acted in anything but in good faith. She found that they approached the situation with “an abundance of caution.”

Gillis had also argued that the Court of Appeal’s decision was an inevitable outcome and that the law society should have simply ignored the trial judge’s decision.

But the law society pointed to the fact that Gillis did not seek judicial review of the interim suspension.

“This submission runs contrary to anything we know with respect to appellate review,” Clendening said of Gillis’ argument.

Because of her findings on the limitations period and the law society’s immunity, the judge determined it was not necessary to comment on any of the other grounds Gillis had raised.

Gillis, who has practiced law since 1971, did not respond to a request for comment.

Richard said the law society is satisfied with the decision, but had no further comment as it was still within the appeal period.

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