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Northern Ont. lawyer who abandoned clients in child protection cases disbarred

The Law Society of Ontario said it received a total of 28 complaints from clients of Michael Allison Constable beginning in 2020. (File) The Law Society of Ontario said it received a total of 28 complaints from clients of Michael Allison Constable beginning in 2020. (File)
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A North Bay, Ont., lawyer who abandoned 15 clients – many of them child protection cases – has lost his licence to practise law.

The Law Society of Ontario said it received a total of 28 complaints from clients of Michael Allison Constable beginning in 2020.

Constable handled family law and child protection cases but often failed to show up for hearings or communicate with clients.

“Many of the clients that Mr. Constable abandoned were vulnerable,” said the law tribunal’s decision.

“They needed him to provide them with legal advice to advance their rights and protect their interests. When they needed him, he failed to respond, failed to attend client meetings, failed to attend meetings with opposing counsel, failed to attend settlement conferences, and failed to attend court.”

In one case, Constable agreed to represent a woman and her husband – known in court documents as ‘Client B’ -- seeking access to their grandson after their son’s death.

He accepted $2,500 to represent them but waited too long to file the motion to add the access issue to an ongoing custody hearing, forcing Constable to make a separate court application.

The grandparents had trouble contacting Constable after that incident and had to settle for speaking with a law student who was writing the court application on their behalf.

In court, however, the judge rejected the application because it was riddled with errors.

“It was prepared on an improper form, bore the wrong application number and did not contain proper supporting documents,” the tribunal said.

When the judge advised the grandparents to speak with Constable about the application, they replied that was “impossible at times.”

Clients were 'discouraged and humiliated'

After that hearing, Constable suddenly withdrew as their lawyer, leaving his clients “discouraged and humiliated by the experience and decided not to pursue further legal action in relation to access to her grandson.”

In another case, a woman hired Constable to help her get a court order restricting her ex-spouse’s access to their children because she believed he was violent.

But after agreeing to take the case, Constable refused to take her calls or answer emails. Of the 36 emails she sent, he replied to only four and instead communicated with the client through his bookkeeper.

He failed to show up for a hearing June 1, 2021, which led to the woman’s ex-spouse gaining temporary access to the children.

After failing to attend court and file motion materials, Constable stopped responding to the woman in August of that year, forcing her to hire a new lawyer who had to scramble to salvage the case.

In another example, a woman was seeking an urgent order to increase the contribution from her ex-spouse for their daughter’s university education. When her ex-spouse made an offer, the client rejected it and told Constable to schedule a trial on the matter.

She later discovered he “had failed to file anything on her behalf with the court” and couldn’t account for how he spent the retainer she provided him.

Client shocked to find his office permanently closed

Constable was also the lawyer in “numerous” child protection cases, but “was frequently absent from court appearances without notice,” negatively affecting eight such cases.

Not all the cases involved child protection. A woman he was representing in an impaired driving case in October 2021 was shocked to find a warrant for her arrest had been issued because Constable failed to attend a court hearing in the case.

The woman went to his office, only to find that it was permanently closed. The warrant was eventually rescinded and she hired new legal representation.

In addition to interactions with clients, Constable also failed to cooperate with nine Law Society of Ontario investigations into his conduct.

“Mr. Constable failed to respond to any of the Law Society’s letters, emails or telephone calls about the nine investigations,” the tribunal’s decision said.

“The last direct contact with Mr. Constable was on Nov. 10, 2021, when a Law Society investigation counsel attended his office and hand-delivered a letter requesting information and a response. In total, 11 communications were sent to Mr. Constable by the Law Society in relation to the nine investigations. He failed to respond to any of them.”

Abandoned his law practice

He also abandoned his law practice without telling his clients, providing them with their case files or accounting for how their retainer money was spent.

“Mr. Constable not only abandoned his clients and his practice, he abandoned his staff,” the decision said.

“He left them to deal with his clients.”

In its decision to disbar Constable, the tribunal said his actions were particularly troublesome because of the vulnerability of his clients.

“They needed him to provide them with legal advice to advance their rights and protect their interests,” the tribunal said.

“He made meaningless and empty promises about filing materials necessary to advance and protect their interests. His actions caused actual prejudice to some of his clients.”

In addition to revoking his licence, the Law Society got an award for costs of $12,915. Constable was also ordered to refund his clients for the retainers he had not accounted for.

Read the full decision here.

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