Former Alberta justice minister waits to learn if conduct deserving of law society sanction

Jonathan Denis, 48, is before the law society, accused of professional misconduct.  (CBC - image credit)
Jonathan Denis, 48, is before the law society, accused of professional misconduct. (CBC - image credit)

Former justice minister Jonathan Denis must wait to learn if he is guilty of professional misconduct following a Law Society of Alberta disciplinary hearing.

Denis, who opened a law firm after losing his seat in the 2015 provincial election, was cited by the Law Society of Alberta on two counts of alleged professional misconduct.

On Thursday, final arguments were made after two days of proceedings that took place in February.

Following submissions, the panel adjourned briefly before deciding members were not in a position to render a decision and reserved to a later date.

"The issues identified are very nuanced," said committee chair Corinne Petersen.

The charges faced by Denis are based on two sets of allegations.

In the first count, Denis is accused of acting in a conflict of interest by representing two families whose teenage daughters had been involved in a car crash as the driver and passenger in the same vehicle.

One of the girls — the driver — gave a statement to Denis, and her father testified he sent photos of the crash scene. But months after their initial meeting, Denis served that family with a lawsuit on behalf of the family of the passenger.

Not a 'perfect decision'

Defence lawyer Alain Hepner acknowledged Denis was in a conflict and did breach the law society's code of conduct but argued the situation didn't rise to the level of sanctionable conduct because his client proactively underwent a practice review.

"It might not have been the perfect decision at the time," said Hepner. "How much more could he have done?"

But law society counsel Shanna Hunka argued Denis's conflict "couldn't be a more evident breach of the code of conduct rule."

"I suggest that conduct after the fact … doesn't speak to the conduct itself, that goes to sanction," said Hunka.

'She ought not to break the law'

In the second citation, Denis is accused of threatening the employment of a woman on behalf of a client with whom she'd had an affair.

After the woman learned the man she'd been dating — one of Denis's clients — was married, she contacted the wife to let her know about her husband's infidelity.

Denis sent an email described as a cease and desist letter to the woman. She testified it threatened to tell her employer she had violated its code of conduct.

Hepner categorized her contact with the wife as criminal harassment and argued his client was simply "trying to express that she ought not to break the law."

But Hunka argued the letter threatens to report the woman to her employer and is deserving of sanction.

Denis spent three years (2012-15) as justice minister under a Progressive Conservative government.

The panel will issue its decision in the coming weeks or months.