The Local Journal didn’t want to be accused of leaking the story of how the Town of Hudson is taking lawyer and Hudson resident Veronique Fischer to the Barreau du Québec, alleging ethical breaches.
So it ran a story about the town’s shock and dismay that somebody sent a photocopy of the town’s Barreau beef against Fischer to the Journal reporter’s home.
The Journal attempted to claim the high road by noting that it withheld Fischer’s name and the details of the town’s complaint against the tax activist. But it was fooling no one, certainly not in a small town where everybody and his mother’s dog has heard Fischer’s name bandied about in connection with a number of files, including the withdrawal of the $1.5M repaving bylaw and the recent near-death experience of the $555,000 we’re-not-sure-what-it’s-for loan bylaw.
In an exclusive interview with thousandlashes.ca, a fly on a Hudson town hall wall has alleged the photocopy was sent by the town. I’ve agreed to keep the fly’s identity confidential due to fear of reprisals.
“There were just the two of them,” she said.” “It was after hours and everyone else had gone home. I’m paraphrasing here because my memory isn’t perfect, but they’re agreeing it’s a shame there’s no legal way to make the town’s complaint to the Barreau public. Such a magnificent document, so damning. They figure they can discredit her in her community and cause her financial embarrassment. They jawbone for a while before they hit on the idea of an anonymous leak. Leave it to me, says one of them. You will need plausible deniability. Then they leave.”
If proven, Ms. Fly’s allegation would place the town in a serious breach of Barreau ethics. Because the legal profession is self-regulating, the Barreau receives complaints and builds the file before placing it before the syndic, the tribunal which will determine the veracity of the complaint and possible sanctions.
In itself, the town’s decision to take Fischer to the Barreau is logical and understandable. As I posted in my blog Lawyer vs. Lawyer (thousandlashes.ca, April 21/17), Hudson’s current administration makes no secret of its determination to silence what it considers nuisance critics:
…I sat down with the DG for a 45-minute chat about how the town proposes to silence persistent critics without being accused of stifling free speech.
Roy began by making it clear the town would seek the means to neutralize residents who make it their business to monitor the decisions and practices of municipal administrations and have the know-how to research documents and the means to take their findings to provincial authorities.
Fischer has been highly effective in her ability to pry embarrassing and potentially damaging information loose through the use of Access to Information requests – so effective, the town asked the commission responsible for policing AI requests to impose a freeze until after the Nov. 5 municipal elections.
The core of the town’s Barreau complaint against Fischer is whether she violated the Barreau’s guidelines by conflating her legal responsibilities with her activities as a citizen activist. I know other lawyers who have become enmeshed in similar disputes because of their roles in civic matters. The Barreau seems to decide these matters on a case-by-case basis.
It’s by making this case public – if it is indeed responsible for the leak – that the town has committed a breach of ethics that would leave it open to possible civil action. Moreover, if it can be proven a Barreau member played any part in the breach, he or she would also be liable to sanctions.
It’s possible Fischer or someone close to her leaked the document to discredit the town’s action of taking her to the Barreau, but I tend to dismiss that possibility. No lawyer wants to be taken before the Barreau. It represents time, incurs out-of-pocket expense and could result in sanctions. Leaking the complaint does nothing to halt the town’s action.
Could it be someone with access to the file who thought leaking the report would help Fischer’s cause? Again, I can’t see that. Barreau proceedings are closed. Public opinion plays no role.
…which brings me back to Ms. Fly’s allegation. If true, it wasn’t enough for the town to launch Barreau procedures against Fischer. They’re a confidential administrative process and the results are seldom made public. My hunch: the administration wanted this to be tried simultaneously in the court of public opinion to make a public example of their vexatious critic.