Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

City attorney disbarred after lying

Helped client by padding bill but discrepancy was discovered

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A veteran Winnipeg lawyer has been disbarred for trying to get more money for a client in an unlawful dismissal case.

David Guttman, who practises at the McRoberts Law Office, was disbarred last week after a hearing by the Law Society of Manitoba's disciplinary committee.

Guttman's disbarment was supposed to begin on Sept. 1, but Allan Fineblit, the society's CEO, said it will be put on hold because the lawyer appealed the decision immediately after it was handed down.

Fineblit said the Manitoba Court of Appeal will hear the appeal.

Guttman was found guilty of "trying to get more for your client.

"It's admirable -- but you can't lie," Fineblit said.

Guttman ran afoul of the society while representing a client in an unlawful dismissal case in 2007.

After a settlement was reached with the employer, the employment insurance paid out had to be given back, minus the lawyer's bill for services, Fineblit said.

But Fineblit said Guttman submitted a bill a few thousand dollars higher than it actually was, so he could give more money to his client.

"It wasn't for personal gain," Fineblit said. "But that's not an excuse for dishonesty."

Guttman could not be reached for comment.

Fineblit said disbarment is the worst penalty a lawyer could face -- far worse than other options, such as suspension.

"The decision is forever, but some have been able to apply to come back after a number of years," he said.

The latest incident is not the first time Guttman has run into trouble with the law society or the courts.

In 2007, provincial court Judge Ken Champagne called into question Guttman's advice to his client not to co-operate with a court-ordered psychiatric assessment.

The client, Paul Joubert, who was accused of first-degree murder in the deaths of his elderly parents in Brandon, hanged himself on Jan. 31, 2005, before an assessment could be conducted.

In 1989, Guttman was fined $1,600 after lying to a judge. At an earlier hearing Guttman told the judge he missed a preliminary hearing because while on vacation his chartered bus was late getting him to Vancouver for his flight to Winnipeg.

Guttman later admitted he had been hungover and was too ill to go to court. The law society later suspended him from practising for two months.

In Jan. 1992, Guttman was acquitted on a charge of attempting to obstruct justice by counselling his client to identify himself as his brother.

The judge said he didn't believe Guttman would tell his client to do so, because the brother's fingerprints were on file with police.

"If Mr. Guttman would give the advice he was supposed to have given, it would either be deceitful or downright stupid. I don't think David Guttman is that stupid," Mr. Justice Michel Monnin said during the ruling.

But just a few weeks later, on Feb. 21, Guttman was sentenced to eight months in jail after being found guilty of obstructing justice for misleading the court into believing a client was in the courtroom for her trial.

Guttman had told his client, who was charged with three Highway Traffic Act offences, to stay outside of the courtroom when the case hinged on whether witnesses could identify her.

When the provincial court judge asked Guttman whether his client was in the courtroom, Guttman answered: "My client is here today, yes, and we are ready to proceed."

In convicting Guttman, Judge Frank Allen said, "I would describe this as sharp practice if it were not so pitifully stupid."

But the Court of Appeal later unanimously overturned the conviction, saying Guttman's actions were wrong, but not criminal.

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 23, 2009 A3

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