By JOHN MOORHOUSE
A Summerland lawyer has been handed a one-month suspension by the Law Society of B.C. for professional misconduct.
Tom Johnston was reprimanded for misleading a client and failing to provide an adequate level of service. He was representing a group of four clients involved in a civil case in B.C. Supreme Court in Penticton almost four years ago.
In addition to the suspension, scheduled to begin on Friday, Johnston must pay $6,448 in legal costs to the Law Society to cover its expenses during the November hearing into the complaint.
A Law Society panel looking into the complaint said Johnston "admitted the allegations and agreed his behaviour amounted to professional misconduct."
However, the society emphasized the lawyer was not looking to gain personally from his actions.
"There is no suggestion that the respondent (Johnston) was acting in anything other than the best interests of his clients as he perceived them," the society stated in a news release.
"However, based on the evidence, he did clearly contradict his clientsÕ instructions and at times obviously misled his clients."
According to the hearing's report, the matter had originally been scheduled to go to trial on Feb. 23, 2009 but did not proceed on that date. Johnston later failed to follow his clientÕs direction to withdraw a counter-offer for settlement.
A court settlement was eventually reached on July 16, 2009. The complainant, one of the four clients involved in the case, was from outside B.C.
Johnston admitted his actions, in essence, forced his clients to accept settlement terms.
Contacted at his Summerland office Wednesday, Johnston noted his clients did not lose out financially.
"What they (the Law Society) said was the settlement was arguably as good as could ever have been achieved at trial," he said. "It was in excess of six figures and they got all the money."
Johnston said the allegations of misleading his client stemmed from one letter.
"I wrote a letter that had two mistakes in it, and thatÕs what caused the problem," he said. "I admitted I made a mistake."
This marks the first time Johnston, 61, has ever been disciplined by the Law Society. The suspension continues until Feb. 28.
The law office of Johnston, Goodrich Lawyers will remain open during that time. The firmÕs other partner, Cory Goodrich, was not involved in the case.