Mayor not guilty of professional misconduct
SYDNEY — Mayor John Morgan has been found not guilty of professional misconduct by a hearing committee of the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society, which ruled that his comments about the judiciary were inappropriate but made in his capacity as mayor of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality rather than as a lawyer.
The hearing committee of three lawyers said in a ruling Wednesday that Morgan, a lawyer, failed in his duty to encourage public respect for justice and failed to treat the court with courtesy and respect in comments he made during a CBC radio interview broadcast April 24, 2008, about a Nova Scotia Supreme Court ruling that dismissed the municipality’s lawsuit against the province.
Morgan’s comments about the regional or political bias in the ruling of Justice John Murphy were particularly offensive since they implied his decision in the lawsuit was without merit and was unjust, the hearing committee said.
Those comments, which failed to treat the court with courtesy and encourage public respect for the administration of justice, were clearly contrary to a handbook of legal ethics and professional conduct for lawyers, the hearing committee noted.
During the hearing, Morgan and a lawyer for the barristers society agreed that during the radio interview, the mayor said that he knew the municipality would face challenges in the lawsuit, stating that virtually all of the justices in Nova Scotia are part of political structures endemic to the province, that Murphy had ties to the Conservative party and that in Nova Scotia, everybody involved in the judicial process has ties to political parties and structures and that these people are not “tree shakers.”
But Morgan wasn’t engaged in the practice of law when he made the comments, clearly made them in his capacity as mayor and never stated he was, nor was he retained to act as a lawyer in the Supreme Court case, the committee hearing said.
“ Thus, notwithstanding that Mr. Morgan’s comments are inappropriate and should not be condoned, we find that Mr. Morgan is not guilty of professional misconduct ... in relation to the charges set out in the complaint.”
The mayor responded to an email request from the Cape Breton Post on Wednesday for an interview about the ruling. In his email reply, he said he was attaching his submissions to the barristers’ society tribunal.
“Hopefully you can determine my position from reviewing these documents so I don't get exposed to additional complaint filings from political opponents,” the mayor’s email concluded.
Sydney lawyer Dwight Rudderham who has confirmed he made a report to the barristers society that led to the allegation of professional misconduct against the mayor, said Wednesday he was satisfied by the ruling, which was made by three lawyers on the hearing committee.
“ They heard the evidence, they would have done an indepth review of the law and the professional ethics, and this was the decision they came to,” he said. “It’s clear they did not condone the comments of John Morgan, in fact the language was quite strong to the contrary that they did not condone the comments.
“ In fact, what they said around the comments with respect to Justice John Murphy was very strong.”
Rudderham said he had thought that a lawyer was subject to the rules whether they were acting in their capacity as a lawyer at the relevant time.
Murphy handed the municipality a setback in April 2008 when he ruled that no justiciable constitutional issue was raised by its argument that the province is failing to meet its financial obligations to the municipality under Section 36 of the Constitution.
The municipality has been arguing the province is shortchanging it by millions of dollars each year by not fulfilling its obligations under the Constitution.
The barristers’ society ruling can be read online at www.nsbs.org/disciplineDecisions.php?disciplinedecisions_id=40.