Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Prosecutor fired over ethical issue

Charges stayed; donation made

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A veteran Manitoba Crown attorney has been fired after he dropped charges against a Winnipeg company involved in a workplace accident -- only to have the company make a substantial financial donation to a charity he oversees.

The provincial government recently notified Sean Brennan he was being dismissed with cause following an investigation into his handling of a file. They determined Brennan committed a serious breach of the code of conduct and ethics governing lawyers.

"This was, allegedly, a self-interested exercise in prosecutorial discretion," a justice source told the Free Press Wednesday.

Brennan, who began his career with Manitoba Justice in October 2000, did not return several email requests for comment Wednesday. A spokesman for the Manitoba Association of Crown Attorneys said they are aware of the case but "unable to comment at this time." Several legal sources said Brennan is weighing whether to file a formal grievance, which could ultimately end up before an arbitrator.

The Free Press has uncovered and confirmed the following facts surrounding Brennan's dismissal:

Bristol Aerospace was charged in 2010 under the Workplace Safety and Health Act after one of its employees was injured on the job in 2008. Sources told the Free Press the wounds were minor but the company was accused of failing to follow required safety guidelines following an investigation by the province.

Brennan was assigned to prosecute Bristol and the matter dragged through the courts until he entered a stay of proceedings in late 2011, meaning the company was in the clear and would face no sanctions. No explanation was provided to the court.

Around the same time, Bristol made a $65,000 donation to Agape Table, a charitable organization that provides community programming and nutrition to hundreds of clients daily. Brennan has served as Agape's chairman of the board of directors since March 2000.

Multiple sources told the Free Press Manitoba Justice only recently learned of Bristol's donation and its link to the dropped workplace-safety case -- from Brennan.

"He self-reported it," said one source. Sources said Brennan is taking the position he never directed Bristol to donate to Agape, and the company made its own decision to choose the charity he was connected to.

They say Brennan made this clear to justice officials, but the decision to fire him was still made.

Allan Fineblit, CEO of the Law Society of Manitoba, told the Free Press Wednesday his agency is monitoring developments in what he called a unique case.

The law society hasn't sanctioned Brennan.

"Crown attorneys, like every lawyer, are subject to the code of professional conduct. There is no question we would have jurisdiction here," Fineblit said.

Sources said the case is unique for several reasons, including the fact Brennan is not accused of personally benefiting in any way. Some have referred to it as a "Robin Hood" type of situation, with those most in need reaping the benefits.

A provincial justice spokeswoman said they are "unable to comment on personnel issues for confidentiality reasons."

Bristol officials didn't return calls Wednesday seeking information about the dropped charges or their donation to Agape.

Curtis Unfried, the Winnipeg lawyer who represented Bristol in the workplace-safety case that was stayed, declined to comment until he could get the go-ahead from company officials.

Other board members at Agape told the Free Press Wednesday they are stunned by Brennan's firing and the alleged link to the work he has done on their behalf.

"This has caught us a little off guard," said Laurel Martin, a volunteer director with the charity. "We don't want to speculate. We are going to look into this. This is serious."

Agape has often raved about Brennan's contributions. He was the community-service recipient at the 2011 Manitoba Service Excellence Awards.

"Sean was instrumental in transforming Agape Table from a soup kitchen that served approximately 300 people daily into a community nutrition centre. In spearheading this transformation, Sean has been a role model, mentor, coach and leader to the board, staff and clients of Agape Table," the organization's website reads.

"Sean has very much been a force for change and innovation in his time at Agape Table. Sean was not content with being a Band-Aid or the boy with his finger in the dam.

Agape has improved as a direct result of Sean's breadth of involvement, tireless enthusiasm, commitment of many hours and keen intellect challenging the status quo and societal preconceptions."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 11, 2013 A3

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