Cape Breton lawyer who admits he lied to clients and the courts faces suspension

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Sydney, N.S., lawyer T.J. McKeough is expected to be suspended by the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society next month after admitting to more than 45 charges of professional misconduct and incompetence. (Joan Weeks/CBC - image credit)
Sydney, N.S., lawyer T.J. McKeough is expected to be suspended by the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society next month after admitting to more than 45 charges of professional misconduct and incompetence. (Joan Weeks/CBC - image credit)

A Cape Breton lawyer is facing a suspension of up to 18 months and strict conditions on returning to practice after admitting to the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society that he lied to clients, other lawyers and the courts.

During an online hearing on Thursday, bar society lawyer Bernadine MacAulay said the "extent of the misconduct and incompetence" displayed over several years by T.J. McKeough "is staggering."

In an agreed statement of facts, McKeough admitted to 12 breaches of integrity, 27 instances of failing to serve clients properly, twice breaching client confidentiality, twice being in a conflict of interest and "several" incidences of uncivil and discourteous communication with opposing counsel, totalling more than 45 infractions.

MacAulay said all of that amounts to professional misconduct and incompetence.

She also said some of the charges stem from actions involving McKeough's onetime partner, Sydney, N.S., lawyer Nash Brogan, who is currently serving a six-month suspension after a bar society hearing in October.

However, MacAulay said, the cases are different.

Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press
Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

"While some of this misconduct overlaps, Mr. McKeough's conduct we submit is much more serious, because of the integrity issues and the serious impact on the clients," she said, recommending a lengthy suspension.

MacAulay said several times McKeough told clients he had done work on their file or handled settlement funds, when he had not.

She said he also told other lawyers he was doing work he had not done and did the same in court.

Some of the charges involve taking money from clients and failing to hold it in trust until work was done.

McKeough told the hearing he realized some kind of sanction was necessary, but argued for a suspension of less than 18 months, saying he was having troubles in his personal life and was a relatively new lawyer who was supposed to be learning from Brogan, who has been a lawyer for decades.

McKeough said Brogan instead regularly berated his work, mocked his weight, otherwise verbally abused him and continues to pick on him.

McKeough said he was admitted to the bar in 2014 and eventually joined the firm Brogan shared with another lawyer from Wolfville, N.S.

When that partnership went sour, McKeough and Brogan became partners in 2016.

McKeough admits he lost interest in work

McKeough said he earned his law degree in England and passed the national certification exam in Canada, but that was in a different province, so he was not familiar with family law in Nova Scotia.

He said Brogan left day-to-day operations with him, but was supposed to be senior counsel and oversee all client files.

After the two began to clash, McKeough said he stopped caring about the work and their partnership dissolved in 2018.

"At the time, I was basically of the opinion that, 'You know what Nash, if you're so great, I'm just going to kick back in my chair and just watch this place burn to the ground,' which was wrong," McKeough told the hearing.

"I'm not saying that was the appropriate thing to do ... but that's definitely what I did."

Suspension could start next month

The three-member bar society panel, which includes lawyers Michelle Awad, Heidi Schedler and Moka Case, ended the hearing after nearly two and a half hours and reserved its decision on the length of McKeough's suspension.

That is expected to start in February, after McKeough completes a trial for a client.

McKeough said he intends to accept the consequences of his actions.

"I've learned a lot and I just hope that some time in the future ... people can forgive what happened and I'll be able to move on and have some sort of career, but we'll see," he said.

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