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Delayed divorce leads to B.C. lawyer suspension

Abbotsford lawyer who left client "in the dark" about their divorce proceeding has to pack up his shop for two months.
If your lawyer significantly delays legal proceedings and services, they may find themselves in hot water with their regulator. Photo: peopleimages via iStock/Getty Images

The Law Society of BC has handed a one-month suspension to Abbotsford lawyer Gerald Edward Palmer for his “inexcusable” failure to finalize a client’s divorce in a timely manner.

A society hearing panel had already ruled Palmer committed professional misconduct by failing to keep his client reasonably informed on the divorce proceedings, including answering reasonable requests for information from the client.

The client, it was determined at a hearing, was “left in the dark” for almost three years, leaving them with a “heavy emotional impact,” according to the panel’s June 26 disciplinary decision.

“Failing to provide a sufficient level of service strikes at the heart of the public interest in the administration of justice and the trust the public will have in lawyers generally,” the society’s executive submitted in seeking the one-month suspension, which it was granted.

The panel found Palmer’s delay and inaction “egregious,” particularly because Palmer had faced warnings from the society to prevent further non-responsiveness, after Palmer faced similar complaints in a prior case.

Furthermore, the panel stated, “We find that [Palmer’s] failure to admit to central facts meant that the matter proceeded to a contested hearing.

“The Client was required to testify, give evidence and was cross-examined by [Palmer], at the risk of reliving the emotional distress the Client was exposed to during the time of the divorce. After that process, we ultimately found that the Client’s evidence was more credible and preferred, and that [Palmer’s] evidence was vague and uncorroborated.” 

Senior lawyer suspended two months

Following the Palmer decision, the society also suspended senior lawyer Michael James Edwards two months and ordered he retain an accountant to review his bookkeeping and audit his records on a semi-annual basis for two years, after a hearing panel found Edwards committed professional misconduct.

The June 27 disciplinary decision noted Edwards has practiced law for 53 years and is “an experienced practitioner of good character” who “assists the less fortunate in his community by providing affordable legal services.”

Unfortunately for Edwards, he improperly withdrew of $2,354 in client trust funds, failed to prepare monthly trust reconciliations, failed to submit payroll source deduction remittances to the Canada Revenue Agency and made misrepresentations to the society in his 2019 trust report. 

The panel noted Edwards was "sincerely remorseful."

It’s understood any suspension can be a significant undertaking for a lawyer, who must cease practice and meet strict conditions.

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