Dr. Dawg

Lawyerly conduct and Mr. Levant

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ezra lerant.jpg

Is it OK for a lawyer—an officer of the court—to tell someone to “f*ck your mother” on national television? And then to complain that his remark didn’t get more coverage?

Levant is a member of the Law Society of Alberta. Here is an extract from that body’s Code of Professional Ethics:

Maintaining Professional Integrity and Judgment

6.03 (1) A lawyer who engages in another profession, business or occupation concurrently with the practice of law must not allow such outside interest to jeopardize the lawyer’s professional integrity, independence or competence.

Thus it seems that a lawyer cannot just stop being a lawyer at will—for example, when he wants to be grossly insulting on TV. This is made clear in the explanatory note that the ALS provides to accompany the rule, which reads:

Whether the activity in question is entirely unrelated to the practice of law or overlaps with the practice to some extent, the profession through the Society must maintain an interest in its nature and the manner in which it is conducted. While the Society’s primary concern is with conduct that calls into question a lawyer’s suitability to practise law or that reflects poorly on the profession, lawyers should aspire to the highest standards of behaviour at all times and not just when acting as lawyers. Membership in a professional body is often considered evidence of good character in itself. Consequently, society’s expectations of lawyers will be high, and the behaviour of an individual lawyer may affect generally held opinions of the profession and the legal system. [emphasis added]

It is surely not too much to suggest that telling someone on national TV to fornicate with his mother, with nary a kiss or a please, hardly reflects the highest standards of behaviour expected of an officer of the court. On the other hand, the Alberta Law Society may have somewhat different standards than I.

Now, I step carefully here, having once been threatened with a lawsuit by Levant on this subject. He was accused of conduct unbecoming back in 2008, with this result:

The LSA found Mr. Levant violated the following rules of professional conduct: to “respect and uphold the law in personal conduct,” to “seek to improve the justice system,” to not “act in a manner that might weaken public respect for the law,” to be “courteous and candid,” and to not “harass any person or discriminate against any person” on various prohibited grounds. Mr. Levant confirmed the matter was dropped after he attended a “mandatory conduct advisory,” known as a “fireside chat,” with senior bencher Stephen G. Raby, QC.

A confidential letter signed by complaints manager Katherine A. Whitburn, dated last year, states that the senior lawyer would have to be satisfied Mr. Levant understands there is “a balance between freedom of speech and the obligations imposed on a lawyer… to maintain courtesy at all times,” and that he “undertake to cease the publication of [his own or others’] opinions… that are discourteous.”

Readers must decide for themselves if this “undertaking” has been observed. In my own view, Ezra’s conduct on television and elsewhere has been frankly despicable, lowering the tone and content of public political discourse to a truly abysmal level.

As noted, his latest bit of self-indulgence may or may not fall afoul of the standards set by the Law Society of Alberta, but that organization appears to be concerned that, in its own words, “the behaviour of an individual lawyer may affect generally held opinions of the profession and the legal system.”

For those interested, this is how to make a complaint to the Law Society of Alberta (and no, you do not have to be a resident of that province). Do not, repeat not, expect instant satisfaction. That body’s complaints process flows about as rapidly as Alberta bitumen in February.

There is another body that has jurisdiction over this sort of thing: The Canadian Broadcasting Standards Council. Be warned that it too proceeds at a leisurely pace: at the half-year mark, it has still not ruled on Sunshine Girl Krista Erickson’s disgraceful interview of Canadian dancer Margie Gillis, although it did tell people to stop sending in complaints—enough already!

Here, for what it’s worth, is a relevant extract from the Radio Television Digital News Association of Canada’s Code of Ethics, to which the CBSC adheres:

Article Eight - Decency and Conduct

Electronic journalists will treat people who are subjects and sources with decency….They will strive to conduct themselves in a courteous and considerate manner, newsgathering as unobtrusively as possible. They will strive to prevent their presence from distorting the character or importance of events.

For those with longevity, here is how to make a complaint to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.

Want to return Canada to higher standards of public conduct? Take the action(s) you deem fit.

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on January 6, 2012 6:04 PM.

"Pro-life" arsonist motivated by "dislike for abortion" was the previous entry in this blog.

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