Lawyer tried to pressure public officer to agree to an adoption sought by foster parents
The Law Society of British Columbia has imposed a 3-month suspension on a lawyer found to have threatened a public officer in an attempt to induce the officer to agree to the settlement desired by the clients.
The law society’s hearing panel found that John (Jack) Joseph Jacob Hittrich had committed professional misconduct under s. 38(4) of the Legal Profession Act for threatening to expose alleged perjury on the part of the representatives of the Director of Child, Family and Community Services. The panel determined that the threat constituted an attempt to influence the director to act contrary to her public duty, which was to act in the best interests of the child involved.
Hittrich was representing the foster parents of SS, a child whom they wanted to adopt. Hittrich initiated two petitions on behalf of the foster parents, both seeking an adoption. These petitions were both dismissed. While the appeals were pending, Hittrich obtained an interim order to prohibit the director from removing SS from the custody of the foster parents.
The director opposed the adoption because she believed that it was in the best interests of SS to rejoin her siblings, who were in the care of a family in Ontario. The director arranged a video-conference meeting attended by SS, her siblings, the assigned social workers and the family in Ontario. The foster parents secretly recorded the audio of this meeting and later informed Hittrich that the social workers had referred to the family in Ontario as “mommy” and “daddy.”
When Hittrich raised this issue to allege a possible breach of the interim order, the social workers denied in their affidavits that they had made referrals to a “mommy” and “daddy” during the meeting. An official transcript, prepared from the surreptitious audio recording, later stated that the social workers did make those referrals.
Hittrich then sent the director a letter which referred to the transcript as evidence for alleged perjury and which said that his clients were willing to drop the proceedings if the director would consent to the adoption of SS by a certain date and time. The director rejected this settlement offer. The Court of Appeal then dismissed the two pending appeals.
The law society began investigating the incident when it learned about the director’s application for special costs in connection with related legal proceedings, which the appeal court had rejected as an abuse of process.
The hearing panel found professional misconduct on the part of Hittrich. The panel considered some of the factors laid out in Law Society of BC v. Ogilvie, 1999 LSBC 17, in determining the proper sanction to impose.
As regards the nature and gravity of Hittrich’s conduct, the panel said that it was serious, deliberate and lacking in good faith. As to Hittrich’s previous character, the panel considered his professional conduct record and brought attention to a 2000 conduct review that it called “troubling.” On whether Hittrich had acknowledged the misconduct, the panel said that he had apologized. Lastly, upon the issue of Hittrich’s potential for rehabilitation, the panel said that it felt neither optimistic or pessimistic about this, but nothing suggested that he lacked the probability of rehabilitation.
For these reasons, the panel ordered a three-month suspension and payment of costs amounting to $18,665.85.