The Honourable Alison Merrilla Redford, Q.C., MLA,
Premier of Alberta
Office of the Premier Room 307,
I read with an abiding interest a news story by Calgary Herald reporter Darcy Henton dated October 4, 2012 entitled ” Redford defends compensation for law society dues“. Henton writes:
Premier Alison Redford says it is “entirely appropriate” for her to bill taxpayers for her Law Society of Alberta membership dues, but lawyers who serve as opposition MLAs called the practice “ridiculous” and “a gross misuse of taxpayers’ dollars.”
Redford told reporters at a Chamber of Commerce conference at Enoch’s River Cree Resort that it is the practice of the Alberta government to pay the professional membership fees for “people that are practising professions.”
“I am a member of the Law Society in good standing,” she said.
“As justice minister I was the chief legal adviser for the province. I think it was entirely appropriate.”
She said that didn’t change when she became premier.
“From my perspective, it’s part of my professional standing,” she said.
“It’s one of the things I stand forward with and say, that I am proud of the fact I am a member of a profession with a great deal of integrity. It is part of what has been government policy.”
By way of background, I am a member of the Law Society of Upper Canada, admitted to the Ontario bar in 1993.
The purpose of this letter is to highlight what I consider, on your part, to be a fundamental misunderstanding of your role as an elected public official, who also happens to be a lawyer.
As you know, historically, Alberta has had a long tradition of Premiers who were lawyers by profession— Alexander Rutherford, Arthur Sifton, John Brownlee, and, of course, Peter Lougheed. All of these lawyers qua politicians served the public in their capacity as politicians, not lawyers. Certainly, each brought to the Office of the Premier a reservoir of legal acumen and professional experience. However, and correct me if I am wrong, none were practising barristers and solicitors during their respective tenure as Premier.
Perhaps you were misquoted when you were alleged to have said, “I am a member of the Law Society in good standing,” or “As justice minister I was the chief legal adviser for the province. I think it was entirely appropriate.”
If you were quoted accurately, then, I’m afraid you are just plain wrong.
You are not a practising lawyer while you hold public office.
While you are a “public officer”, it is wholly inappropriate to imply that you are practising law, or that it is justifiable to claim your professional dues while holding the title of Premier. Contrary to your views, while there is no legal or statutory requirement that a Justice Minister be a member of a provincial bar, there certainly is no element of the practice of law that falls within the ambit of your duties and responsibilities as the Premier of a province.
For ease of reference, the Legal Profession Act, R.S.A. 2000, c.L.8 (as am.) sets out the professional and ethical obligations relating to the practice of law and holding oneself out as a lawyer to the public:
Practice of law
106(1) No person shall, unless the person is an active member of the Society,
(a) practise as a barrister or as a solicitor,
(b) act as a barrister or as a solicitor in any court of civil or criminal jurisdiction,
(c) commence, carry on or defend any action or proceeding before a court or judge on behalf of any other person, or
(d) settle or negotiate in any way for the settlement of any claim for loss or damage founded in tort.
(2) Subsection (1) does not apply to the following:
(g) a public officer in respect of any acts performed by the public officer within the scope of the public officer’s authority as a public officer;
Misrepresentation as to professional status
107(1) No person shall, unless the person is an active member of the Society, hold out or represent that the person is an active member of the Society, or a person lawfully entitled to practise law or to carry on the practice or profession of a barrister or solicitor.
(2) No person shall, unless the person is a member of the Society, hold out or represent that the person is a member of the Society or a barrister and solicitor.
(3) Subsections (1) and (2) do not apply to a professional corporation.
(4) A member whose membership is under suspension shall not hold out or represent that the member is a member in good standing or a member not under suspension.
109(1) Every person and every officer, employee or agent of a corporation or firm who contravenes this Part is guilty of an offence and liable
(a) for a first offence, to a fine of not more than $4000,
(b) for a 2nd offence, to a fine of not more than $8000, and
(c) for the 3rd and every subsequent offence, to a fine of not more than $12 000 or to a term of imprisonment of not more than 6 months or to both fine and imprisonment.
(2) A prosecution under this section may be commenced within 2 years after the commission of the offence, but not afterwards. 1990 cL-9.1 s106
Proof of offence
110 In a prosecution under this Part it is sufficient proof of an offence if it is proved that the accused committed a single act prohibited by this Part. 1990 cL-9.1 s107
111 If a person has contravened or is contravening any provision of this Part, the Court of Queen’s Bench, on application by the Society, may make an order restraining that person from contravening or continuing to contravene that provision, whether or not a conviction has been adjudged in respect of the contravention. RSA 2000 cL-8 s111;2009 c53 s97
For greater certainty, I direct your attention to Rule 6.03- Outside Interests and the Practice of Law and Rule 6.04- The Lawyer in Public Office from The Law Society of Alberta Code of Conduct, reproduced for your convenience below:
6.03 OUTSIDE INTERESTS AND THE PRACTICE OF LAW
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.
A lawyer must not carry on, manage or be involved in any outside interest in such a way that makes it difficult to distinguish in which capacity the lawyer is acting in a particular transaction, or that would give rise to a conflict of interest or duty to a client.
When acting or dealing in respect of a transaction involving an outside interest, the lawyer should be mindful of potential conflicts and the applicable standards referred to in the conflicts rule and disclose any personal interest.
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.
6.03 (2) A lawyer must not allow involvement in an outside interest to impair the exercise of the lawyer’s independent judgment on behalf of a client.
The term “outside interest” covers the widest possible range of activities and includes activities that may overlap or be connected with the practice of law such as engaging in the mortgage business, acting as a director of a client corporation or writing on legal subjects, as well as activities not so connected, such as a career in business, politics, broadcasting or the performing arts. In each case, the question of whether and to what extent the lawyer may be permitted to engage in the outside interest will be subject to any applicable law or rule of the Society.
When the outside interest is not related to the legal services being performed for clients, ethical considerations will usually not arise unless the lawyer’s conduct might bring the lawyer or the Code of Conduct profession into disrepute or impair the lawyer’s competence, such as if the outside interest might occupy so much time that clients’ interests would suffer because of inattention or lack of preparation.
6.04 THE LAWYER IN PUBLIC OFFICE
Standard of Conduct
6.04 A lawyer who holds public office must, in the discharge of official duties, adhere to standards of conduct as high as those required of a lawyer engaged in the practice of law.
The rule applies to a lawyer who is elected or appointed to a legislative or administrative office at any level of government, regardless of whether the lawyer attained the office because of professional qualifications. Because such a lawyer is in the public eye, the legal profession can more readily be brought into disrepute by a failure to observe its ethical standards.
Generally, the Society is not concerned with the way in which a lawyer holding public office carries out official responsibilities, but conduct in office that reflects adversely upon the lawyer’s integrity or professional competence may be the subject of disciplinary action.
Lawyers holding public office are also subject to the provisions of Rule 2.04 (Conflicts) when they apply.
In conclusion, I strongly urge you to consider your professional obligations and duty to the public by paying your Law Society dues personally, apologizing to the Alberta public and reimbursing Alberta taxpayers.
Going forward, you may also save yourself some money and pay the reduced Law Society of Alberta professional dues by designating yourself as an inactive member, until you return to private practice.
Antonin I. Pribetic
- Redford defends compensation for law society dues (calgaryherald.com)
- Redford expensed law society dues (calgaryherald.com)
- Alberta Premier Alison Redford defends her hefty taxpayer tab (sunnewsnetwork.ca)
- Alison Redford dishes out five years of travel, hosting and meal expenses (calgaryherald.com)
- Alison Redford ordered $22 coffee on the taxpayer’s dime, and other revelations from her expense reports (news.nationalpost.com)