Kelowna lawyer's threats deemed 'conduct unbecoming the profession'

Kelowna lawyer fined $12k

A Kelowna lawyer has been fined $12,000 by the BC Law Society after he was convicted of threatening his ex-wife in 2017.

William Thomas Clarke was convicted in January 2019 of uttering threats to cause bodily harm or death against his ex-wife in December 2017, and was sentenced to a 12-month conditional discharge.

Clarke has been a lawyer since 1996, and he now practices divorce and other family law matters in Kelowna, at The Courtyard Law Offices.

His appeal of the criminal conviction was dismissed, and he abided by his probation conditions for the 12-month period before the conviction was discharged from his record.

But as a result of the conviction, the Law Society of B.C. has disciplined Clarke for engaging in “conduct unbecoming the profession.”

In a recently published decision, the Law Society notes the conviction stems from a Dec. 16, 2017 phone call, where Clarke called his ex-wife, referred to as LC, to discuss some arrangements about their child who they shared custody over. The conversation became less than amicable after the topic turned to a condo in Ontario he had been forced to give to LC during their separation two years prior.

“[Clarke] called LC a 'greedy guts' for wanting more money than she deserved, given that he had paid for repairs to the condominium plus lawyer fees,” the Law Society said.

“[Clarke] went on to talk about a former criminal client who could solve problems by menacing, intimidating, hurting people, or just making them disappear.

"[Clarke] said something about how people who were within six or two degrees of separation of them, could end up with bullets in them, and said that LC should beware, be careful or be warned. LC did not know whether [Clarke] was referring to her, her family, her lawyer or somebody else, but she took his rant as very threatening ... [Clarke] mentioned not caring if he ended up spending the rest of his life in an eight-by-eight jail cell.”

Shortly after the phone call, Clarke then called a friend of his ex-wife's, who was storing Clarke's firearms, and told her he was coming over to pick up his guns.

“The timing and rapid sequence of these calls from the friend and [Clarke] sent LC into a panic,” the Law Society states.

The incident came after Clarke had previously emailed LC earlier that year, saying “I want you dead.” During a prior incident in 2016 or 2017, Clarke called LC and said “I bitterly hate you,” and “That is why spouses hate each other and kill each other when they are deprived of the parenting rights they believe they are entitled to.”

But LC did not report Clarke to police until the December 2017 incident.

Clarke maintained he had not intended to intimidate LC, but he was “engaging in a jesting, joking or humorous rant,” according the Law Society. He argued that his desire to pick up his firearms right after the argument was pure coincidence, to take advantage of a sale on gun storage boxes, but Judge Paul Meyers rejected this defence.

He has since told the Law Society that he had not meant to threaten LC, and she had misunderstood him. He says he has since apologized to her, and they are now on friendly speaking terms.

The Law Society noted that apart from his criminal conviction, Clarke has a good reputation in the legal community, but his “pattern of unacceptable behaviour directed at LC” was unbecoming of the legal profession.

“Lawyers who practise family or criminal law, as has [Clarke], should know all too well the trauma that threats directed against a current or former intimate partner can cause,” the Law Society stated.

Ultimately, Clarke and the Law Society agreed to the $12,000 fine, in addition to Clarke paying $1,000 in legal costs. He was not suspended from practising law for any period of time.

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