A Brandon lawyer has been suspended by the Law Society of Manitoba in connection with an affair he had with a client.
Carl Franklin Burch is in the midst of a one-month suspension after being convicted of professional misconduct.
“It basically involves the fact that he was acting for a client and became involved in an intimate relationship with her for a period of time,” said Law Society CEO, Allan Fineblit.
In December, Burch admitted to the misconduct. He pleaded guilty to two counts of conflict of interest and one count of breach of integrity under the society’s code of professional conduct.
His licence to practise law was suspended for one month: Jan. 26 to Feb. 24.
Both Fineblit and Burch said they couldn’t go into the details of the case, citing the complainant’s privacy.
Burch admits he made a mistake. He said he initially refused to represent the woman, but changed his mind when she faced an important deadline without legal representation.
“If I had not helped this person, tremendous damage would have occurred and that’s a judgement call, and it was poor judgment on my part … It was a poor judgment to help somebody when there was a personal relationship,” Burch said.
The society began an investigation based on a complaint by the client, Fineblit said.
But Burch said he alerted the law society to the problem four years ago, two years before the complaint was made, and agreed to his suspension.
However, Fineblit said Burch’s affair with the woman appears to have begun in 2007 and lasted a number of months.
Fineblit said the woman hired Burch, and while he represented her, the romantic relationship began.
It was while Burch was the woman’s lawyer, and in the midst of their relationship, that the violations of the code of professional conduct occurred, Fineblit said.
Fineblit said the conflict of interest was due to the relationship.
“If you’re acting for a client, and you’re involved in a relationship with them, then you’re sort of putting your interests in conflict with their interest … You can’t do that, you always have to look after the client’s interest first,” Fineblit said.
When it came to the breach of integrity count, Fineblit said: “(Burch) was obtaining certain information and it would have been important to disclose this relationship and (he) didn’t do that.”
Fineblit said Burch had been misleading by indicating that he didn’t have personal information about the woman when he would have, due to their personal relationship.
“If he was being honest, he needed to disclose this and he didn’t so he misled somebody,” Fineblit said, although he didn’t specify who Burch had misled.
Fineblit said it was a professional, but not the court or another lawyer.
Burch said that disclosing the information would have caused “tremendous harm.”
Besides the suspension, Burch also has to pay $2,500 in costs for the investigation and prosecution.
In addition, before he can return to practice, he has to take a “professional boundaries” counselling program.