A Vancouver lawyer is waiting to learn what disciplinary action he’ll face after a Law Society of British Columbia panel found he committed professional misconduct for telling a social worker he “should shoot” her.
The incident dates back to Sept. 28, 2011, when sole practitioner Stanley Chang Woon Foo was at the courthouse in Quesnel, B.C. It was a busy day at the court with several preliminary and administrative family law matters on the docket. At one point, Foo approached social worker A.M. while she was with a colleague, C.B. According to the law society’s recent ruling, he then asked A.M. if she was “the social worker.”
She confirmed she was, after which Foo told her he “should shoot” her because “she takes away too many kids,” the ruling states. They didn’t know each other prior to that.
A.M. eventually reported the incident to police, but they declined to pursue any charges. In an interview with law society staff, she said Foo told her: “I’m going to shoot you.”
Asked why she walked away in response, she said: “Well, I was kind of shocked. I’m not used to having to de-escalate lawyers.”
For his part, Foo said he and A.M. were making light conversation and that she laughed. While he didn’t remember exactly what he said, he argued he was joking and had no intent to threaten her. He also said he’s a “bombastic guy and he made a spontaneous statement to A.M. that was a joke and therefore not discourteous.” In Foo’s view, the panel noted, “making a joke, even in bad taste or poorly worded, is not behaviour that is a marked departure from the conduct that the law society expects of its members.”
The case, then, considered the question of when casual conversation becomes professional misconduct. As a result, the panel took pains to note the context as well as “how a reasonable person would understand the meaning of such words.
“We do not wish to inhibit common social interactions, nor do we want to discourage the practice of making jokes or light-hearted barbs or insults, which, in the proper context, can enhance camaraderie and diffuse tension in the day-to-day conditions that can arise in the practice of law,” the panel wrote.
Ultimately, however, it found against him.
The respondent does not seem to understand that, in the context of a waiting area outside of a courtroom on a busy day, when speaking to a person he believed he had no prior or current dealings with, it was inappropriate to identify her by name and occupation in such a crowded area and to say he ‘should shoot’ her and that she ‘takes away too many kids.’
Even if the respondent did not intend to intimidate or threaten A.M. with his comments, the panel finds that he was irresponsible and did not adequately consider the impact that his words (specifically, that he ‘should shoot’ her and that she ‘takes away too many kids’) would have in this emotionally charged situation where parents are in conflict with the ministry and where others outside the courtroom would overhear his comments. The panel finds that A.M.’s belief that the respondent’s comments were not a joke is reasonable in this context.
As a result, it found he had committed professional misconduct and will now set a hearing to determine the disciplinary action.
Foo could not immediately be reached for comment.