Complaint reignites lawyer-client sex debate

Last May, an Edmonton woman, Tammy Downes, filed a complaint with the Law Society of Alberta against her former lawyer, Allan Botan. She alleged sexual misconduct.

Complaint reignites lawyer-client sex debate
Alice Woolley, law professor at the University of Calgary and president of the Canadian Association for Legal Ethics, says, 'It’s ridiculous' that there are no regulations prohibiting the commencement of sex between lawyer and client.

Last May, an Edmonton woman, Tammy Downes, filed a complaint with the Law Society of Alberta against her former lawyer, Allan Botan. She alleged sexual misconduct.

Those allegations became public during a lawsuit Botan brought against his one-time client. He successfully sued Downes for contingency fees outstanding from his work on her long, drawn-out medical malpractice suit.

However, during submissions, Downes alleged that Botan had sexual relations with her while acting as her lawyer. Botan acknowledged a brief liaison soon after he was hired, but he said the consensual sex ended quickly. The woman said she felt controlled, she said his sexual advances continued for some time and she felt unable to end their solicitor-client relationship.

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The court made no finding on the sex allegations, but it awarded Botan his fees. Soon after, Downes filed her complaint with the LSA.

No law society in Canada specifically prohibits sex between lawyer and client. And, in July, the Law Society of Alberta’s disciplinary panel dismissed the Downes complaint.

This case ignited, once again, the debate over sexual relations between client and solicitor. Alice Woolley, influential legal blogger, law professor at the University of Calgary and president of the Canadian Association for Legal Ethics, says, “It’s ridiculous” that there are no regulations prohibiting the commencement of sex between lawyer and client.

She points to such prohibitions south of the border.

Woolley says she thinks Canadian legal regulators should follow the U.S. lead. “Having sex with a client risks undermining the independence and professional usefulness of the advice that a lawyer provides.”

University of Ottawa common law dean Adam Dodek agrees. He says it is urgent for the profession to act promptly. And he has a warning for Canadian lawyers. “If you don’t want the government to intervene, then do it for yourself.”


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