Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Protect the public

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Lawyer Jack King has been given a reprimand by a committee of the Law Society of Manitoba for his attempts in 2003 to get a client to sleep with his wife, now a judge. Some believe it is akin to a slap on the wrist -- the mark is a permanent entry on Mr. King's professional record but it does not prevent him from practising. Nor should it.

The client who launched the disciplinary investigation wants the lawyer disbarred. That would be overly punitive. Mr. King left practice for nine months and sought medical help for depression and anxiety, which he says triggered his bizarre behaviour with former client Alex Chapman.

Nothing suggests he is an abiding threat to clients. On Monday, he pled guilty to the three counts of misconduct, and will pay the cost of the law society's disciplinary hearings.

There is lingering discomfort over how long it took for the law society to act. It learned late in 2004 (it has corrected earlier statements that it intervened in 2003) of the affair. In early 2005, after Mr. King had returned to practice, the law society demanded evidence that he was fit. A number of lawyers knew of Mr. King's conduct in 2003; why did no one alert the law society? Because the rules don't compel such disclosure.

The law society says now the King-Chapman affair has been a learning experience. In January, rules were changed to compel lawyers to report a colleague who is believed to have misappropriated funds, acted criminally or is mentally unstable. The rules should also compel lawyers to report themselves or colleagues for suspected professional misconduct, which covers ethical situations. And with or without a complaint from a victim, the law society ought to investigate such serious concerns to ensure the public is protected.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 30, 2011 A12

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