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Lawyer accused of sexually harassing ex-client still hasn't submitted a defence

The main entrance of the Ottawa courthouse in September 2022. James Bowie, a suspended Ottawa lawyer, has not yet filed a statement of defence in a lawsuit filed against him in January. He now faces the possibility of the case moving forward without his involvement. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC - image credit)
The main entrance of the Ottawa courthouse in September 2022. James Bowie, a suspended Ottawa lawyer, has not yet filed a statement of defence in a lawsuit filed against him in January. He now faces the possibility of the case moving forward without his involvement. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC - image credit)

An Ottawa lawyer accused in a lawsuit of sexually harassing and defaming a former client has been noted to be in default for a second time, and faces the possibility of the case being decided without his involvement.

The $325,000 lawsuit against James Bowie was filed in January.

The plaintiff alleges Bowie sent her unsolicited nude pictures, offered to consume alcohol and illegal drugs with her, and offered his legal services in exchange for "oral sex every two weeks" via messages on the social media platform Snapchat.

Her statement of claim said she was "deeply disturbed" and uninterested in sexual relations with Bowie, but "felt obliged to continue the solicitor-client relationship" due to concerns about her criminal matter, which has since been dropped.

It also stated the woman confided in Bowie about her financial struggles, mental health and relationship troubles.

The woman detailed the same allegations in a complaint to the Law Society of Ontario and attached screenshots of Snapchat conversations with Bowie. Bowie is currently suspended indefinitely from practising law.

Request for stay, sealing order not considered

Bowie has not yet filed a statement of defence in the lawsuit against him, and was notified that he was in default for the first time on March 28.

At a Superior Court hearing in September, Bowie asked a judge for several things, including:

  1. The lawsuit to be stayed — put on hold — until separate criminal charges he's facing are dealt with. (In April, he was criminally charged after another woman accused him of harassing and extorting her, as well as uttering death threats against the woman who is suing him. CBC is not naming either woman, as their identities are protected by publication bans.)

  2. A seal on the evidence he's provided in the lawsuit so far and a prohibition on its use in any other proceedings against him.

  3. A motion to set aside his first notice of default.

Justice Heather Williams ruled that because Bowie was in default, he didn't have the right to ask for anything except to have the default notice set aside.

Bowie in 'crippling emotional distress': affidavit

In an affidavit, Bowie argued he's been left in "crippling emotional distress" by all the allegations against him, the "significant media coverage" that followed, and the "social, professional and financial fallout."

He wrote that his distress and mental health struggles have made adhering to deadlines "extremely difficult."

A hearing took place on Sept. 22, and six days later Justice Williams ruled in Bowie's favour. Williams said that while the medical evidence Bowie provided is "limited and vague," she believed he "has mental health issues and that he has been struggling."

She didn't think his mental health necessarily prevented him from defending himself, but said he should be given the opportunity "if he truly intends to do so."

Still hasn't filed statement of defence

Bowie was given 30 days to file a statement of defence that adheres to the rules for civil procedure, and pay $5,000 in "costs thrown away" by the plaintiff's counsel.

He did not comply with those orders and was noted to be in default a second time on Oct. 31.

At a case conference on Monday, the plaintiff's lawyer, Christine Johnson, said they're moving ahead with a motion for default judgment. If they win that motion, a judge could rule on the merits of the case without Bowie's involvement.

Johnson said it's expected to be heard sometime in the new year.

Criminal trial set for September

Bowie's criminal case continues to make its way through court.

On Tuesday, the Crown elected to proceed with the criminal charges by indictment. A five-day trial in Ontario court was scheduled for September 2024. Bowie is being represented by defence lawyer Eric Granger.

In an email Tuesday, Bowie wrote he's confident he'll be acquitted.

"The idea that I have committed these offences is ridiculous," he wrote.

In January, Bowie and his then counsel David Shiller filed a notice of libel against CTV News and Bell Media, which said Bowie would seek damages, interest and costs in a proceeding he would commence. CBC has been unable to locate any court records in relation to such a lawsuit.

Reached by phone Tuesday, Shiller said he was no longer representing Bowie and could not answer any questions.

None of the criminal or civil allegations against Bowie have been proven in court.