A former Summerland mayor has admitted to professional misconduct and had his ability to practise law suspended for one month.
Tom Johnston, a partner at a Summerland law firm, was also ordered to pay $6,448 in costs to the Law Society of B.C., according to a decision issued last week following a hearing in November.
He was sanctioned for his work on a civil matter he took on in 2008, which involved four unnamed clients whose case was before the B.C. Supreme Court in Penticton.
According to a decision written by a disciplinary panel of the law society, Johnston didn’t follow his clients’ instructions and in doing so “denied his clients the trial they wanted.”
“His clients were left with no choice but to agree to a settlement they did not want.”
The decision went on to note, however, that “the result obtained at the end of the proceedings was arguably as good as could ever have been achieved at trial.” And the panel also pointed out there was “no suggestion that (Johnston) was acting in anything other than the best interests of his clients as he perceived them.
“However, based on the evidence, he did clearly contradict his clients’ instructions and at times obviously misled his clients.”
As a result, a lawyer for the law society suggested Johnston be suspended from practice for up to three months, while Johnston’s lawyer argued one month was appropriate.
Although the panel pointed that as a “mature” and “senior member of the bar,” Johnston ought to have known better, it noted he’s had “a significant level of involvement in his community, including civic politics and his church.” Johnston also submitted 15 letters of reference in his favour, including 10 from other lawyers and three from politicians.
Reached by phone last week, Johnston said, “No doubt I made mistakes, so I’m not trying to downplay that at all,” but declined further comment.
Johnston served as mayor of Summerland from 2002 to 2005, and in 2008 made an unsuccessful bid for a seat on Penticton city council when he ran as part of a slate of candidates under the Okanagan Skaha Ratepayers Association banner.
In addition to his work on criminal cases, Johnston has also represented clients in high-profile civil actions, including Gary Leaman’s unsuccessful 2010 libel case against Mark Ziebarth related to a letter to the editor during the 2008 civic election. Johnston also represented the group that went to court in 2008 in a failed bid to block demolition of the old gym and auditorium at Penticton Secondary School.
His firm, Johnston Goodrich Lawyers, will remain open during his suspension, which runs to Feb. 28.