Lawyer fined for misleading law society

Panel dismisses complaint alleging Baker pushed client to plead guilty

Published on March 25, 2014
Averill Baker. — Telegram file photo

A St. John’s lawyer has been reprimanded and fined for misleading a Law Society of Newfoundland and Labrador panel dealing with a complaint about her professional conduct.

A former client of Averill Baker initially filed a complaint alleging he did not receive proper legal representation and involuntarily pleaded guilty to a break-and-enter charge. A Court of Appeal decision later set aside that guilty plea.

The panel dismissed that allegation, noting the complainant failed to testify and that no reason was given for his failure to attend a scheduled hearing.

It also noted there were concerns about the complainant’s credibility in light of a lengthy criminal record with convictions for several breaches of recognizance.

However, the panel did determine Baker’s conduct with respect to the hearing itself warranted discipline.

In a written response to the complainant’s allegations, Baker indicated the Crown had agreed to withdraw several charges against the complainant as part of a plea agreement.

However, a Crown attorney who testified before the panel said those charges were withdrawn due to either lack of evidence or no reasonable prospect for conviction.

The panel’s decision — published on the Canadian Legal Information Institute website — noted correspondence between the Crown attorney and Baker indicated as well that was so.

“As such, the Panel finds that (Baker) knew that these charges were not being withdrawn as part of the plea agreement,” the panel said in it’s decision.

Counsel for Baker argued it was simply a matter of “unintentional oversight” on her part. The panel did not agree that was the case.

“The Respondent had in her possession prior to preparing the Response the information she would need to properly and accurately respond to this Complaint. Yet she chose to highlight by bolding and/or underlining inaccurate information that certain charges were withdrawn as a result of her advocacy on behalf of (her client) when the fact was that these charges were being withdrawn in any event by the Crown due to lack of evidence.”

In addition to a reprimand, Baker must pay a $3,500 fine and half of the Law Society’s costs incurred for conducting its investigation and holding the hearing.

 

arobinson@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @TeleAndrew