Quebec bar finds mayor guilty of professional misconduct for doing legal work

A Quebec mayor/lawyer who raised eyebrows and made headlines earlier this year for representing a client in a court battle against his own city hall has been found guilty on a single count of professional misconduct by the disciplinary committee of the Quebec Bar.

A Quebec mayor/lawyer who raised eyebrows and made headlines earlier this year for representing a client in a court battle against his own city hall has been found guilty on a single count of professional misconduct by the disciplinary committee of the Quebec Bar.

“No one can serve two masters at the same time,” reads the committee’s Nov. 27 decision against Chateauguay mayor and local lawyer Pierre-Paul Routhier, citing both the Supreme Court of Canada’s 2002 ruling in R. v. Neil.

“The duty of loyalty goes above and beyond the lawyer-client relationship and concerns the integrity of our judicial system.”

But Routhier isn’t backing down.

In an interview today with Legal Feeds, he says he is “extremely surprised” by the committee’s ruling, and he says he intends to appeal the decision to Quebec’s Tribunal des professions once he receives his sanction, which will likely happen early in the New Year.

The decision comes on the heels of a full-day hearing at the Barreau du Quebec's offices in Montreal in September at which Routhier defended his actions before the bar’s watchdog committee.

Soon after being elected mayor of the small, off-island Montreal suburb in November 2017, Routhier began taking flak on social media and in local newspaper articles for his continued legal work on behalf of Michel Gendron, a former Chateauguay city councillor and local businessman.

Gendron was then fighting a years-long battle over the legality of a motion presented by council to dismiss him from office for refusing to complete an obligatory declaration of property, which all elected officials are required to do under Quebec’s Act respecting elections and referendums in municipalities.

Gendron finally won his case in August, when the Court of Appeal of Quebec overturned a Superior Court ruling that the councillor had failed in his pecuniary duties.

Routhier, a local businessman who went to law school at age 47 and returned to open a two-lawyer general practice in Chateauguay in 2002, had successfully made that case on Gendron’s behalf before Quebec’s Municipal Affairs Commission in 2014 — but lost in Quebec Superior Court in 2016.

“If you are a shareholder in Sobeys, does that mean you are obligated to declare all of their grocery stores in Montreal?” Routhier said in February in an interview with Canadian Lawyer about the case and the kerfuffle over his apparent conflict of interest.

“We want to see some clarity on this matter in the law.”

Routhier’s work on behalf of another local politician — Gilles Pepin, a former mayor of the nearby town of Saint-Constant who was removed from office in 2013 after being charged with criminal offences by Quebec’s government anti-corruption agency, known as UPAC — also raised hackles.

Though the charges against Pepin were withdrawn in 2015 — a day before preliminary hearings were set to begin — Routhier represented Pepin in his legal bid to be reimbursed $100,000 in legal fees from the municipality he once led.

Routhier’s client won that case as well in May, when the town of Saint-Constant was ordered to pay him $130,000.

The ruling came just days after a Superior Court of Quebec judge rejected a motion by the town to have Routhier barred from the case for his apparent conflict of interest as the sitting mayor of Chateauguay.

The disciplinary committee of the Barreau du Québec, however, came to an entirely different conclusion following its investigation into Routhier’s dual role as lawyer and mayor in the case of Gendron.

After a formal complaint was lodged by the Montreal-based Ligue d’action civique in early March, the Quebec Bar’s investigators met with both Routhier and Gendron.

Those investigations led to a formal charge on March 22 for what the Bar’s deputy syndic called Routhier’s “placing himself in a situation of conflict of interest in continuing to represent Gendron, in a case against the City of Chateauguay, while having opposing interests and/or representing opposing interests, as both mayor and as the legal representative of the other party, he could show preference for one over the other, or his judgment and loyalty could be unfavourably affected, as could the administration of justice, contravening article 72 of the Lawyer’s Code of Conduct (Code de déontologie des avocats) and article 59.2 of the Quebec Professions Code (Code des professions).”

In the September hearing, the syndic argued that despite saying he was no longer representing Gendron, Routhier was present at the Quebec Court of Appeals hearing in May, dressed in his courtroom robes.

Both the syndic and Routhier acknowledge however that Routhier’s partner, Julianne Goulet, made all representations to the court.

Routhier says that both the Quebec Bar investigators and the three disciplinary committee members, who voted unanimously against him, failed to believe the three principal witnesses in the case — himself, Goulet and Gendron — that he was not representing Gendron.

“To represent or not to represent someone is a matter of fact, not law,” says Routhier.  “I’m confident that truth will prevail in the appeal.”



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