A former Vancouver lawyer has been found guilty of professional misconduct for the sexual assault of a prospective client.
The ruling by the Law Society of British Columbia Tribunal Hearing Division follows his criminal conviction on Nov. 27, 2020, for the assault that occurred on Feb. 28, 2018.
“She was entitled to receive professional treatment and advice. Instead, the (lawyer) took advantage of her vulnerability, touched her sexually and implied that she needed to be ‘nice’ to him in order to have him assist her with her legal problem,” it said.
The victim, identified as X, sought legal advice from MAS regarding a domestic violence case involving her husband. She was seeking, among other things, to get his bail varied so they could live together again following the allegation of domestic violence.
During their meeting at his office, MAS’ conduct took a turn as he acted in a flirtatious and sexualized manner, showed up to the meeting with his shirt untucked and partially unbuttoned, his belt undone and in stocking feet, and made physical advances towards X.
The details of the assault were brought to light during the trial, where X testified alongside several other witnesses. According to X’s account, MAS put his head on her chest, placed his hand behind her back, and placed his other hand on her leg.
He then moved his hand from her leg towards her crotch, all the while positioning himself in a way that blocked her path and made her feel physically trapped. MAS also made a disturbing statement to X, saying, “Nicer you are to me now, (the) sooner you get your husband home.”
X only managed to free herself from the assault when she pushed MAS away. MAS was subsequently sentenced to a suspended sentence with a two-year probation period.
The Panel, responsible for determining the allegations in the citation, relied heavily on the findings from the criminal proceedings, including the trial judge’s reasons for conviction and sentencing, as well as the appeal justice’s decision to dismiss MAS’ appeal.
During the hearing, the Law Society sought to deem certain denials by MAS as admissions due to his failure to comply with the rules regarding denials. Many of his denials were also deemed an attempt to relitigate the findings from the criminal proceedings, which the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled as an abuse of process in similar cases.
MAS argued his case was distinguishable from previous precedents, claiming he did not have a chance to testify and present his side of the story. However, the Panel rejected this argument, noting that MAS had the opportunity to testify during his criminal trial but chose not to. The court found that his defense counsel provided reasonable advice regarding testifying, and his choice not to testify was considered an informed decision.
In addition to the professional misconduct charge, the Panel also addressed MAS’ attempt to introduce evidence related to the encounter with the victim. The Panel ruled that any attempt to relitigate the findings from the criminal proceedings, including arguments regarding the evidence, would not be considered.
MAS attended the first day of the hearing but chose not to appear on the second day. Instead, he sent a letter to the Law Society stating his intention to resign his membership effective March 1, 2023.
However, the Panel clarified that Scheirer could not resign without the consent of the Discipline Committee.
In this case a vulnerable potential client came to seek legal advice from MAS, the tribunal said.
The comment he made, about being “nice” to him now to get her husband home sooner, would constitute professional misconduct even absent the unwanted sexual touching, it said.
“This interaction between the Respondent and X was not only criminal, it was reprehensible, dishonourable, and displayed a complete lack of integrity. X provided evidence at the criminal trial and sentencing concerning the impact that this interaction has had on her – it has negatively impacted her mental health and caused her anxiety,” it said.
“It has impacted the trust she is entitled to have in lawyers, and made her on guard for inappropriate actions by other professionals.”
For more information, see Scheirer (Re), 2023 LSBC 18 (CanLII)