— Photo by Andrew Robinson/The Telegram
A prominent lawyer from the Trinity Conception region apologized at a tribunal Wednesday for his involvement in several real estate transactions that may have led to mortgage fraud.
Doug Moores openly wept at times during the Law Society of Newfoundland and Labrador hearing held at its office in downtown St. John’s. Moores has pleaded guilty to nine offences in connection to 12 real estate transactions. Eleven of those transactions happened within a two-year period from December 2009 to December 2011. The first incident dates back to November 1999.
According to an agreed statement of facts, Moores unknowingly may have permitted mortgage fraud to occur through ordinary negligence. Moores’ lawyer, Peter O’Flaherty, pointed out Moores has been saying this ever since he became aware of the issue on May 1, 2012.
The value of the transactions involved totals close to $2.3 million, although the agreed statement of facts shows Moores did not pocket any money from those transactions beyond his professional fees, which totalled approximately $32,000.
The offences Moores pleaded guilty to include failing to act with integrity, failing to properly supervise legal assistants, failing to comply with written instruction, failing the administration of justice, and failing to act with impartiality, amongst others.
O’Flaherty said his client admitted to making errors and took immediate responsibility for |his actions. He fully co-operated with the law society, and has since then practised law under supervision with almost no issues to report.
He said Moores failed to identify red flags for possible mortgage fraud and was duped by others.
“There’s an individual at the centre of this,” said O’Flaherty.
An initial law society complaint filed in September 2012 by then vice-president George L. Murphy against Moores claimed he knowingly committed misconduct. However, that complaint was replaced by an amended complaint this April, to which Moores subsequently pleaded guilty.
He noted Moores did have one issue come up earlier this year related to an omission on his client’s part. He said Moores received a letter of caution as a result.
O’Flaherty is calling for a suspension at the lower range of one-to-six months for Moores. He also emphasized the matter only came to light after the law society issued a memorandum concerning the issue of mortgage fraud.
Citing the fact mortgage fraud is relatively new to Newfoundland and Labrador compared with other parts of the country, O’Flaherty said Moores’ punishment should not fall in line with lengthy suspensions handed down in jurisdictions like Ontario, where misconduct relating to mortgage fraud has been more commonplace. He said punishments for such forms of misconduct vary across Canada depending on it experience with the issue.
Lawyer bemoans media coverage
Moores’ lawyer said his client has already suffered greatly through a story that was published by The Compass and The Telegram Tuesday.
O’Flaherty took particular issue with how the article was written, claiming it gave the impression Moores swindled clients by improperly taking money out of a trust account. He reiterated his client did not make any improper financial gain through these transactions.
Bern Coffey, a lawyer representing the law society for the tribunal, suggested Moores’ actions could merit a full revocation of his licence to practice law. He said Moores ample experience practising law makes his misconduct all the more alarming, adding Moores ignored his duty of care repeatedly.
Moores was admitted to the bar in 1972 and practises law with Moores & Collins Law Offices in Bay Roberts.
If the panel does not revoke Moores’ licence to practise law, Coffey said it should suspend Moores for 15-to-24 months. He also said restrictions should be placed on what cases Moores can handle once the suspension concludes.
In particular, he said Moores should not be allowed to resume dealing with real estate matters.
O’Flaherty called Coffey’s recommendations for sanctioning severe and argued that such a restriction would be excessive given Moores has competently handled real estate matters since last May.
Coffey contends a suspension of one-to-two months, as suggested by O’Flaherty, would be woefully inadequate and send the wrong message to law society members in the province and the general public.
O’Flaherty called on character witnesses to appear at Wednesday’s hearing.
Fellow lawyer Gerald O’Brien, who has dealt with Moores on hundreds of real estate deals over the years, said it seemed like Moores “took his eye off the ball.” O’Brien said he holds Moores in the highest esteem and that he has never worried about the man’s integrity.
Both O’Brien and fellow character witness William Marshall, a retired Court of Appeal judge, referenced how hard this situation has been on Moores’ family. Moores, seated with his face turned away from those who observed Wednesday’s hearing, became emotional as references were made to his family. He could be heard crying.
During his brief statement to the tribunal panel, Moores said he was very remorseful and had learned a great lesson. He vowed never to fail again in being aware of his duty to the public and the law profession.
A publication ban was agreed to by all parties in relation to information that could identify other parties referred to during Wednesday’s hearing.
The hearing was initially scheduled for two days, but concluded on Wednesday.
There is no specific timeline in place for when a decision on sanctions for Moores will be delivered.