Permanently disbarred lawyer ordered by LSA to pay $350K in costs following mammoth 56.5-day hearing

Christopher Tahn guilty of 49 misconduct citations, including swearing, drinking in front of client

Permanently disbarred lawyer ordered by LSA to pay $350K in costs following mammoth 56.5-day hearing

Following a 56.5-day hearing spread over 18 months, the Law Society of Alberta has permanently disbarred lawyer Christopher Tamas Tahn and ordered that he pay more than $350,000 in costs.

The decision, made at a meeting of the hearing committee on June 29, comes after the protracted hearing, which began in November 2020, resulted in finding Tahn guilty on 49 citations, which included the following misconduct:

  • Poor client service, including failing to provide competent, timely, conscientious or diligent service; failing to give clients statements of account; acting in conflicts of interest; and failing to disclose conflicts of interest;
  • Improper dealings with other lawyers, including failing to comply with undertakings; and misleading other lawyers;
  • Improper trust accounting, including failing to reconcile his firm’s trust account; failing to deposit trust monies on the next banking day; and breach of trust safety Rules; and
  • Ungovernability, including failing to cooperate with the LSA; and failing to respond to the LSA.

Elizabeth Osler, Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director of the LSA said in a statement the core group of the society "is to regulate the legal profession in the public interest..

"Part of that mandate involves creating and promoting required standards for the ethical and competent delivery of legal services and enforcing compliance with those standards in a manner that is fair, transparent, efficient, proactive, proportionate and principled."

Membership in law society suspended in 2018

Tahn lived and practised in Calgary, Alberta, until July 1, 2018, when his membership was suspended due to previous disciplinary proceedings. Shortly after that, a custodian, Richard E. Harrison of Wilson Laycraft, was appointed to oversee Tahn’s practice.

A decision of the committee released in November said: “Having heard the entirety of the evidence and argument, the committee finds [Tahn] guilty of conduct deserving sanction concerning 49 citations which generally fall into the following categories: citations relating to clients; citations relating to other lawyers; citations relating to [Tahn’s] practice; and citations relating to the LSA.

Tahn was admitted to the LSA in 2003 and practised in Calgary in several areas, including real estate, family law, and civil litigation.

His first year of practice was in a firm where he was involved in residential schools litigation. In 2004 he moved firms and practised primarily personal injury law.

Between 2005 and 2010, Tahn ran a solo practice, then each year starting in 2010 and continuing in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2015, he moved between legal firms (five in total).

In July 2015, Tahn again set up a solo practice with a two-year lease on the premises. In the fall of 2017, his practice was moved to his townhouse, and approximately six months later (February or March 2018), he sold his townhouse for a smaller townhouse and again moved his practice to that premises.

Client complaint about inappropriate behaviour

Details of one client complaint that was part of the hearing involve Tahn’s work as Legal Aid counsel for “KW,” representing her in a matrimonial dispute between October 2016 and June 2018. This marital dispute centred on custody and access to the child of the marriage.

On May 31, 2018, KW visited Tahn’s office at approximately 7:00 pm. His office at that time was in his residence, a two-bedroom townhouse in which one bedroom was set up as an office. While they were alone together, Tahn made two alcoholic drinks for himself and offered KW a drink both times. She refused.

According to her evidence, KW could not get Tahn to respond to her legal questions. He “kept using vulgar language and, more disturbing, during the meeting, twice offered her a drink, offered her a line of cocaine, and asked her questions of a sexual nature.”

KW reminded him that she had been clean (no drink or drugs) for over five years. She admitted on cross-examination that she never saw Tahn do a line of cocaine but maintained it happened behind her, and she knew the sound.

KW concluded her evidence by saying she left without any documents and returned two days later with her then-boyfriend to get them. She said she was very upset on the evening of May 31, 2018, and immediately upon leaving, called her mother. She phoned the LSA on June 5, 2018, to complain but never filed a written complaint. She never called the police.

An investigator with the LSA ultimately did get the KW file but not from Tahn. On July 1, 2018, Tahn started a 15-month suspension from the LSA, and in August, a custodianship order was obtained by the LSA regarding Tahn’s practice. On August 16, 2018, the investigator, acting for the custodian, went to Tahn’s office/residence and took all of Tahn’s files and computers to the custodian. The investigator then got a copy of the KW file from the custodian.

Tahn refutes client’s complaint

Tahn’s recollection of that evening was “significantly different.” His evidence was that KW had been “an extremely difficult” client for over two years who lied to him, omitted relevant information, refused or neglected to help her case, and would not follow court orders.

He claimed that he and KW had a running joke that they would celebrate with a drink when their solicitor-client relationship ended. When KW offered to bring drinks that evening, Tahn took this as a sign that KW was ending their relationship, and he was happy to think she would no longer contact him.

That night, when she arrived, she sat on one of his sofas while he sat on another. He offered KW a drink both times, but when she refused, he said he did not press the point. Before addressing KW’s legal issues, he said their conversation focused on KW’s former drug habit, the daily cost of such a habit, her new boyfriend, drug dealers and whether she had been turning tricks. He also specifically denied touching her, making sexual advances, or acting inappropriately or unprofessionally.

He denied using cocaine on the night of May 31, 2018, or ever. He offered the story of an uncle who died of drug use and why he would not and never have used drugs. He suggested that the noise heard by KW, which she described as that of cutting a line of cocaine, was him cutting limes for his drinks.

Tahn also gave evidence that while he clearly told KW she could not have her file, as he would give this to her new lawyer, he would make copies of documents she could take away. At some point, they left the living room and went to his office, the second bedroom in the townhouse. While there, he made copies of several things for her.

Tahn acknowledged using coarse language (the “F-bomb”) at least twice when with KW, “but perhaps not on May 31, 2018.” He noted KW was a challenging client, and he sometimes became frustrated.

Committee rules conduct was inappropriate

The committee ruled after hearing the evidence that Tahn “demonstrated and testified to behaviour that, on the face of it, demonstrates inappropriate actions by offering KW, a recovering addict, alcohol at a solicitor-client meeting.

“Further, his office practice of scheduling a one-on-one meeting with a challenging client, after business hours, in a space that is lacking any physical boundaries between personal and office space does not meet any threshold for a safe meeting environment for either party.”

The decision also notes that the actions of KW after the meeting – reaching out to her mother and boyfriend – and then complaining to the LSA “support a negative reaction to the disorder, boundary issues and admitted behaviour at the meeting.”

For these reasons, the committee decided that Tahn violated s. 49 of Alberta’s Legal Profession Act, which says that any conduct (a) incompatible with the best interests of the public or (b) that tends to harm the standing of the legal profession is conduct deserving of sanction.

This section of the act also links to the preface and s. 2.1 of the LSA’s Code of Conduct, which emphasizes that a lawyer’s irresponsible conduct, whether it is addressed explicitly in rules and regulations, may erode public confidence in, and reflect on, the integrity of the administration of justice and the profession. 

“It is the decision of the committee that coarse language alone, by a lawyer to and in the presence of a client, is unprofessional and is conduct deserving of sanction. Mr. Tahn admits to using such language.”

However, the committee ruled it was more than coarse language. Tahn and KW agree that he prepared and consumed alcohol at the meeting on May 31, 2018. Further, there is agreement that KW was offered alcohol twice by Tahn at the May 31, 2018, meeting.

However, the committee found the LSA has not met its onus to establish on a balance of probabilities that Tahn used drugs on May 31, 2018.

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