The Law Society of Newfoundland and Labrador has suspended Mount Pearl lawyer Leslie Thistle from practicing law for four months after Thistle was found guilty of conduct deserving of sanction in relation to incidents dating back to January 2007.
In a notice of suspension dated Dec. 22, 2017, the society’s adjudication tribunal of its disciplinary panel placed Thistle under suspension from Dec. 23, 2017 to April 22, 2018.
The adjudication tribunal says it determined Thistle failed to act with integrity, failed to be both honest and candid when advising clients, and failed to use reasonable efforts to ensure the client comprehended the lawyer’s advice and recommendations.
It further found Thistle failed not to advise or represent both sides of a dispute, not act or continue to act in a matter where there is likely to be a conflicting interest, and failed to avoid questionable conduct.
The adjudication tribunal’s disciplinary notice, dated March 10, 2016, stated, “Given the nature and gravity of Mr. Thistle’s conduct in this case the adjudication tribunal views the need to maintain the public’s confidence in the integrity of the legal profession as the paramount one given its findings in this case.
“In this regard, Mr. Thistle knew or ought to have known that he was in breach of his professional obligations regarding a conflict of interest between clients.”
According to his website, Thistle’s law office offers services including real estate, personal injury, wills and estates, family law, business law, criminal law and civil litigation. The law office opened in 1996.
In an April 7 disciplinary notice by the adjudication tribunal, it states that a client approached Thistle in January 2007 to provide legal services — to what is referred to in the document as X. Resorts Inc. — in connection with a proposed purchase and other matters. Thistle, at the time, was a shareholder, director and/or creditor of X. Resorts Inc.
“It was a breach of the (Code of Professional Conduct) for Mr. Thistle not to advise (client) of the potential conflict and his need for independent legal advice,” the decision states.
The decision also notes Thistle drafted a letter of intent having regard to protection of his own interests.
“The commentary in paragraph 4 of Chapter V states that the lawyer should avoid a debtor-creditor relationship with a client. Mr. Thistle’s advance of money initially to X. Resorts Inc. created such a relationship. The advance of funds to his client and failure to arrange adequate documentation was a violation of Chapter VI of the code and also Chapter XIX of the code, failure to observe the rules in spirit as well as letter.”
Thistle was also in a conflict of interest with respect to X. Enterprises Inc., documents state.
“Mr. Thistle, as lawyer for X. Enterprises Inc., filed Notice of Directors and Notice of Registered Office, to remove himself as a director and add (client) as director, without instructions from (client) in March 2011,” the decision states. “He acted in his personal interest in that regard. He had just been informed by Canada Revenue Agency that X. Enterprises Inc. had unpaid employee remittances, and he was concerned about his personal liability as director. He did not inform (client) about his filing of the Notice of Directors. In this instance, Mr. Thistle was in conflict of interest arising from his business transaction with his client. He used his position as lawyer to advance his personal interests.”
Thistle had appealed the law society’s decision to the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador, trial division. The court upheld the adjudication tribunal’s decision.
The court stated, “Overall, they (the tribunal) present a well-reasoned, transparent and intelligible analysis of the facts and issues relevant to an appropriate sanction. They further display an appreciation of the appropriate legal considerations in the disciplinary context. Notably, in reading its decision on sanction the tribunal was alive to the fact that the fundamental purpose of the sanctioning process is the protection of the public and to maintain a high degree of confidence in the legal profession.”