Prominent Calgary lawyer Kristine Robidoux, best known for her work defending corporate clients on bribery charges, has been suspended by the Law Society of Alberta and resigned from Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP, in the wake of being found to have breached client confidentiality in 2008.
Robidoux, who defended Niko Resources and Griffiths Energy on bribery charges, was suspended for four months Monday by an LSA panel after she admitted she provided then-National Post columnist Don Martin (now host of CTV’s Power Play), with damaging and misleading internal campaign e-mails and other information about Arthur Kent, who was running for the provincial Tories at the time.
In the agreed statement of facts to the LSA, Robidoux admitted at the time of the breach she believed she was not acting in her capacity as legal counsel, but in the capacity of a volunteer PC quadrant chairperson.
She acknowledged her role as legal counsel for the campaign team did not include communications with the media. She never told Kent she was in contact with Don Martin or the media during the campaign.
[span style="font-family: Helvetica;"]On Feb. 12, 2008, Martin and Robidoux had an e-mail exchange prior to Martin's article being published. The article ran later that day in the
The National Post
with the headline: "Alberta's Scud Stud A 'Dud' on Campaign Trail" and Scud Stud Lands with a Thud" in the National Post.[/span]
The email exchange Martin began with:
Subject: Scud Thud
I see the death spiral for A.K. continues. Any more dirt? Column runs tomorrow.
OMG, it's all bad. I am dealing at this very moment with his official/financial agent who is resigning today.
Can you let me know if he/she does actually resign? Appreciate that. Talked to Hallman and Love. They've never seen anything like this guy before…
The Premier is making an announcement in an hour — specifically requested A.K.'s attendance there, to have a chat. He "declined". Wowzers. It's all bad.
"Are you shitting me?
Nope: I was standing with VP of the party at a fundraiser breakfast this morning when he picked up the voicemail, and he let me listen to it. We were just incredulous.
Kent was running for a seat in the Alberta Legislature as a Progressive Conservative candidate in the 2008 provincial general election. He was a high-profile candidate and attracted attention from the news media. He had been a foreign correspondent for NBC news, earning the nickname Scud Stud, for his coverage of the Gulf War in 1991.
Robidoux was acting as Kent’s campaign legal counsel and official agent.
Kent filed a complaint to the law society against Robidoux in July 2011 and maintained a web site dedicated to his battle with her. The law society completed its investigation in June 2012.
“It is an unfortunate day in the legal profession in Alberta when one of its most prominent lawyers disgraces herself and her profession,” said panel chairman Doug Mah, according to a report from CBC.
Through a formal letter Monday, for the first time Robidoux, apologized to Kent, saying not a day goes by where she doesn’t wonder what prompted her to act in the way she did, said the CBC.
“I’m beyond shocked,” says Toronto lawyer Marcy Segal, who has appeared before the Law Society of Upper Canada on behalf of lawyers and paralegals. “I can assure you our law society would not take this lightly. Nor would there be a long delay in proceeding with this. This is unconscionable behaviour. There is the solicitor-client aspect, which is never to be downplayed except of course if it’s waived, but the conduct really strikes at the heart of the solicitor-client relationship.”
In a press release today Gowlings said the events in question took place prior to Robidoux joining the firm in August 2008.
“They occurred while Ms. Robidoux was working as a lawyer in a volunteer capacity during a political campaign in February 2008.
Gowlings takes this matter very seriously and respects the Law Society of Alberta’s decision. Ms. Robidoux has acknowledged her mistakes and has accepted the four-month suspension imposed by the Law Society.
Ms. Robidoux has resigned from Gowlings. The firm has taken steps to ensure that Ms. Robidoux’s resignation does not interrupt the firm’s representation of its clients. When appropriate, following the completion of her suspension, we expect Ms. Robidoux to return to the firm.”
So although Gowlings has said it wants her back, can Robidoux recover from this?
“You can never downplay connections but I can’t imagine how Gowlings could keep her on the roster. It’s so damaging for their reputation. I can imagine the fallout for Gowlings and the number of clients they could potentially lose because of this,” says Segal.
“If she has large connections and can still get great results for corporate clients, which inevitably means saving them significant amounts of money, I wouldn’t put it past corporate firms from wanting to hire her, but I can’t imagine any long-standing successful law firm would seek to hire her now. It’s not only what she has been found guilty of but it’s been investigated for three years and at the 11th-hour she then starts resolving it.”
According to the CBC, Kent is still suing CanWest, which owned The National Post and Calgary Herald, and Don Martin and Robidoux. The trial is expected to begin Jan. 12, 2015. He is also suing CanWest’s successor company PostMedia for continuing to publish Martin’s original column on its web sites.
In 2013, Canadian Lawyer named Robidoux one of Canada’s 25 most-influential lawyers, in large part due to her handling international corruption cases.
[em]Update 2:20 pm: Details from agreed statement of facts added
Update May 28. Attribution added to details from CBC news report.
Update Oct. 2014: After a four-month law society suspension, Robidoux returned to Gowlings in the early fall but declined to give an interview or comment. She continues to practise in the area of white collar defence, internal investigations, corporate risk, and compliance.