Supreme Court dismisses lawyer’s complaint

  • Lost case: lawyer Norman MacDonald’s case dismissed

    Lost case: lawyer Norman MacDonald’s case dismissed

A complaint by a government lawyer against other members of the profession was thrown out of court, one of the barristers involved has said.

Senior Crown counsel Norman MacDonald claimed in a judicial review application that the Bermuda Bar Association “ruined” his career and caused him “humiliation” and “loss of dignity” after it made complaints against him over his conduct in two court cases.

Richard Horseman, a former Bar Association president, who was accused by Mr MacDonald of tainting the complaints process, said the case was dismissed by the Supreme Court.

The Bar Association, the governing body of the island’s legal profession, refused to comment on the matter.

Mr MacDonald, who works in the Attorney-General’s Chambers, was criticised by former chief justice Ian Kawaley in a 2016 judgment after he asked Karen Clemons, a former teacher who sued the Minister of Education, about her sexual orientation.

Mr Justice Kawaley said Mr MacDonald, who represented the minister in the civil action, quizzed Ms Clemons “quite irrelevantly and improperly”.

The judge said the question was “stunningly unreasonable” and had “no conceivable relevance to the facts in issue”.

Mr Justice Kawaley questioned whether it was “appropriate for counsel for the Crown to conduct litigation” in the manner that Mr MacDonald had in a ruling in another civil case.

The Bar Council in March 2017 asked its Professional Complaints Committee to investigate Mr MacDonald’s conduct.

Mr MacDonald complained in his Supreme Court filing that the council had already decided he was guilty, but that it had provided no details of how he had breached the Barristers’ Code of Professional Conduct in its referral to the PCC.

Mr MacDonald called for the resignation of Jeffrey Elkinson, the PCC chairman, in the civil claim, published on the Offshore Alert website.

He said he asked Mr Elkinson to excuse himself from the hearing because the two had been involved in “hard-fought litigation” against one another, but the Conyers Dill & Pearman director refused.

Mr MacDonald criticised Mr Horseman for his referral to the PCC because he was the brother of Juliana Snelling, a lawyer whom Mr MacDonald had made a complaint about to the Bar Association.

His application also accused Elizabeth Christopher, the Bar Association vice-president, of having a “personal and political agenda to empower LGBTQ persons in Bermuda and to condemn anyone that she views as being a threat to that agenda, especially if they are white, male, heterosexual and non-Bermudian, which [Mr MacDonald] is”.

Mr MacDonald added that he was a longstanding supporter of gay rights.

Mr MacDonald claimed his treatment by the BBA amounted to discrimination under the Human Rights Act and had exposed him to “professional and financial ruin”.

He catalogued psychological and physical injuries he had suffered, including emotional distress, anxiety, sleeplessness, flashbacks, nausea, vomiting and headaches.

It is understood that a hearing took place before Puisne Judge Stephen Hellman on May 24, when an oral judgment was given that dismissed the complaint.

A request from The Royal Gazette for a transcript of the hearing was not responded to by the Supreme Court.

Mr Horseman, a director at the law firm Wakefield Quin, said: “I retired as president of the Bar Association in April 2017. I am therefore not authorised to comment on this matter on behalf of the Bar Council.

“Unfortunately, Mr MacDonald did not serve me with a copy of the proceedings as required by the Supreme Court rules. As an interested party, I should have been given the opportunity to take part in the court proceedings and defend myself from these serious allegations made against me, which are devoid of any merit.

“Mr MacDonald filed a complaint against me in relation to the same subject matter of these court proceedings, which was dismissed by the professional conduct committee and I understand that the Supreme Court dismissed this action as well. In the circumstances, there is little further to be said.”

Ms Snelling, a director at Canterbury Law, said: “The Barristers’ Code of Professional Conduct prohibits me and my fellow barristers and attorneys from publicly criticising Mr MacDonald’s competence and conduct. Accordingly, we have no comment.”

Conyers Dill & Pearman added: “Many of Conyers’ attorneys carry out public duties such as serving on committees and public bodies. They do so voluntarily and as a public service.

“Our attorneys are specialists in their fields and are often called upon to act and advise. This can give rise to potential conflicts, but Conyers has procedures in place and the Bar Association has strict codes regulating conflicts of interest to which all attorneys must adhere.”

A Bermuda Bar Association spokeswoman said: “There is a code of conduct that all barristers and attorneys admitted to the Bermuda Bar are expected to abide by. In the event that they do not abide by it, the professional conduct committee investigates and, where appropriate, prosecutes any who fail to meet standards required.

“Under the current regulations, matters of professional conduct against members of the Bermuda Bar must remain private, save for the following circumstances: until such a time that the Registrar of the Supreme Court publishes an order following a tribunal or where an accused attorney requests that their matter be heard in public.”

She added: “In the event that members of Bar Council, or the professional conduct committee, are conflicted in a matter, they are recused from the discussion and decision-making.”

Mr MacDonald and Ms Christopher could not be contacted for comment.

The Attorney-General’s Chambers did not respond to a request for comment.

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

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