Bar accuses lawyer of improper conduct

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The Bermuda Bar Council has accused lawyer Eugene Johnston of improper conduct in a legal dispute between the Corporation of Hamilton and the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Lawyer Jeffrey Elkinson alleged that Mr Johnston had failed to turn over documents after being removed as counsel in the case at a disciplinary tribunal last week.

Mr Johnston denied the allegation and said that he had placed a lien on the documents because the Corporation owed him more than $60,000.

He also argued that Graeme Outerbridge, the Mayor of Hamilton at the time, did not have the power to remove him as counsel.

The hearing heard that Mr Johnston and J2 Chambers had been hired to represent the Corporation.

In 2014, following the high-profile collapse of the Par-la-Ville hotel project, the Bermuda Government seized financial control of the Corporation which sparked a constitutional challenge by the municipality.

In December of that year, Mr Outerbridge sent Mr Johnston a letter to tell him that Marshall Diel & Myers would replace him as counsel and asked that he turn over all documents to them.

Mr Elkinson said that representatives for MDM made requests for the case files but that Mr Johnston failed to respond.

He said: “It’s not only the fact that he didn’t do what was requested by his client or MDM, he didn’t even bother responding to their e-mails and letters.”

When the constitutional complaint reached the Supreme Court in early 2015, both Mr Johnston and MDM appeared in court and claimed to represent the corporation.

While MDM sought to end the constitutional challenge, Mr Johnston sought to continue it.

A complaint to the Bar Council over the files was made and a tribunal was appointed, but during a hearing last April Mr Johnston said that there was a lien on the documents.

Mr Elkinson said Mr Johnston later wrote a letter denying any wrongdoing but stating that the documents would be prepared and “hopefully” made available to MDM by June 1 last year.

He added: “There was no delivery of files by June 1, 2016. There was never any delivery by June 1, 2017,” he said.

Mark Diel of MDM told the tribunal the Corporation launched proceedings against J2 Chambers in the Supreme Court earlier this year to recover the files.

As a result, they received an order that the sum of money alleged to be owed in the lien would be held by the court and the files would be delivered to MDM.

But Mr Diel said: “We still did not receive the files as ordered so we had to issue contempt proceedings.”

He added that the files were received by the firm around three weeks ago.

Mr Diel questioned the nature of the lien, saying that J2 Chambers had received a $250,000 retainer from the Corporation and that when the files were received, they showed spending after the date that Mr Outerbridge had informed Mr Johnston that he was no longer representing the Corporation.

However during cross-examination Mr Johnston questioned if Mr Outerbridge had the power to take him off the record as he had been hired by the Corporation.

Mr Diel said he recalled that there had been a “factional dispute” in the Corporation at the time.

Mr Johnston suggested that the Corporation must have known about the $61,149 debt they had run up with J2 Chambers as far back as January of 2015.

Mr Diel said he remembered that J2 had requested a meeting during that period, but could not recall the reason.

He added: “I remember there was something about you wanting to meet.

“I don’t remember you complaining at that stage that they owed money.”

The hearing is expected to continue sometime next month.

It is The Royal Gazette’s policy not to allow comments on stories regarding court cases. As we are legally liable for any slanderous or defamatory comments made on our website, this move is for our protection as well as that of our readers.

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