By Kathleen Martens
WINNIPEG –The work Calgary lawyer David Blott did with Indian Residential School survivors is being reviewed by his peers.
The Law Society of Alberta (LSA) confirmed to APTN Investigates it has done an investigation and is now putting David Blott through its “conduct process.”
That’s law society-speak for a process that could result in a lawyer’s suspension or other discipline.
Alternatively, the lawyer could keep working but with conditions attached to his practice, said LSA spokeswoman Ally Taylor.
“I verified with our conduct manager that at this point all we can share is Mr. Blott is proceeding through our conduct process and unfortunately we’re restricted by confidentiality from sharing anything further,” Taylor said from Calgary.
Blott has been on the LSA’s radar since the fall of 2011. That’s when officials with the Indian Residential Schools Adjudication Secretariat obtained a court injunction to stop him from working on survivors’ files.
Officials were responding to complaints from survivors living on the Blood Reserve in southeastern Alberta. Blott represented them and thousands more across Canada in their individual Independent Assessment Process (IAP) compensation claims with the federal government.
Blott succeeded in getting the injunction lifted but then became the subject of a court-ordered investigation into allegations he breached survivors’ trust, wrongly loaned them money, charged inflated interest rates and fees, and breached IAP rules by compensating third-parties he was in business with directly from compensation awards.
Blott has denied all of the allegations as part of this on-going investigation into residential school lawyers by APTN.
But investigators say they confirmed survivors’ complaints in their resulting $3-million report. A report Justice Brenda Brown of the B.C. Supreme Court relied on in the spring of 2012 to bar Blott from any further, lucrative IAP work. However, he was allowed to keep practising by the LSA in an advisory role, meaning he couldn’t meet with clients directly the way other lawyers in his Blott & Co. firm did but could share in the profits.
Recently, the LSA was allowed access to that report to assist with its own independent investigation into Blott’s work. It had to battle Saskatchewan-based lawyer Tony Merchant to get it. Merchant, who is one of the parties to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement that spawned the IAP, opposed the move on several grounds.
Among other things, Merchant argued that the affidavits in the report “cannot be equated to civil proceedings such as the transcripts of examinations for discovery…” He also worried that “personal and private information provided …by former clients of Mr. Blott, could be put to inappropriate use.”
Merchant concluded: The court does not “have in place a procedure for disciplining lawyers participating in” the settlement agreement.
The judge released the report to the LSA anyway.
Taylor, the manager of communications for the LSA, wouldn’t speak directly about the Blott case citing member privacy protection, but did explain the process in general.
“Once we’ve gathered all the information and concluded an investigation, an investigation report is then prepared and served on the…counsel or his lawyer. And then that person would have an opportunity to reply,” she said in a telephone interview. “And that’s basically for clarification; did we get the facts wrong, that sort of thing.”
Taylor said it all culminates in a final report making recommendations on discipline. A panel then meets to determine the outcome.
“Sometimes in parallel,” she added, “there can be negotiation with the lawyer whether or not they’re going to resign, because some lawyers do choose to resign rather than be publicly disciplined in that manner.”
Any disciplinary action taken is posted on the LSA’s website, Taylor added.