Renowned Lawyer Named in Law Society Discipline Case

Jack Woodward was counsel on landmark Tsilhqot'in decision.

By Andrew MacLeod 27 Nov 2014 |

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative bureau chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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Jack Woodward 'wrote the book on aboriginal law,' according to firm website. File photo by David P. Ball.

Jack Woodward, a leading expert in aboriginal law, is the subject of a Law Society of British Columbia disciplinary process for allegedly writing a series of cheques with insufficient funds in 2011.

Woodward's firm represented the Tsilhqot'in in a landmark Supreme Court of Canada decision, which, last summer established aboriginal title to some 1,700 square kilometres southwest of Williams Lake. *

The law society's citation alleges that Woodward wrote cheques for which there was insufficient funds. A schedule included with the citation includes a list of more than 400 cheques written between two accounts over a period of 10 months.

"Between January and October of 2011, you issued cheques between your Jack Woodward Law Corporation account and your H Hotel Ltd. account when you knew that there were insufficient funds in one or both of the accounts to satisfy some or all of those cheques," said the citation posted on the law society's website.

"You did so for the purpose of concealing that there were insufficient funds in one or both of the accounts," the citation said.

In a telephone interview, Woodward, 63, denied the allegations.

"The basic facts are disputed," Woodward said. "It's very unpleasant and it's very uncomfortable."

Woodward said he is semi-retired and is no longer a partner in Woodward and Company. He remains an associate at the firm, and currently lives in Campbell River.

A law society citation is the first step in a disciplinary process that can lead to a reprimand, fine or disbarment. Allegations are unproven until a discipline hearing panel has determined their validity.

The next step is for the law society to hold a hearing. A date for Woodward's hearing has not yet been set, a spokesperson said yesterday.

Cheques back and forth

Writing cheques to conceal that one or both accounts lacked sufficient funds was contrary to the Professional Conduct Handbook then in force, the citation said. "This conduct constitutes conduct unbecoming a lawyer or professional misconduct," it said.

According to a schedule included with the citation, the cheques began on January 6, 2011, with a $25,209.31 cheque written from the Hotel account to the Law Corp. account. Then a day later, on January 7, 2011, there was $20,200 cheque from the Corporation to the Hotel.

The transfers listed continued and grew until the end of October, 2011. On Oct. 26 that year a batch of seven cheques was written from the Corporation to the Hotel for a total amount of $535,435.31.

A day later, in turn, the Hotel wrote seven cheques back to the Corporation for a total amount of $535,835.94.

"The citation is very unfair," said Woodward, who added he was surprised the law society published the list of cheques. "It sounds grim on the website."

Woodward said the Hotel account is for the Harbour House Hotel, of which he's a director and shareholder, on Saltspring Island. The hotel was having financial difficulty, and he managed to save 50 jobs, he said.

"The defense is, the transactions were all allowed by the credit union," he said. "They were allowing it, so I kept doing it. When they asked for the money back, they were paid back right away."

The issue had nothing to do with the law practice, he said. "In my view it's in the nature of a technicality."

Woodward said his lawyer, David Rosenberg, will fight the allegations.

"This is an unpleasant thing to happen at the end of my career," he added.

Decorated lawyer

The provincial cabinet appointed Woodward to the Queen's counsel designation in Dec. 2011. "The Queen's counsel designation is an honour conferred on members of the legal profession to recognize exceptional merit and contribution," the government's press release said. "Successful candidates demonstrate professional integrity and good character."

According to Woodward and Company's website, Woodward has been a member of the Law Society of British Columbia since 1979.

"Jack literally wrote the book on aboriginal law," it said. "He is the author of Native Law... Canada's leading text on the subject."

Woodward developed the first credit course in native law at the University of Victoria, where he has been an instructor and adjunct professor for 16 years, the website noted.

"He has been counsel at all levels of court for over a hundred Indian bands and organizations in a wide variety of cases," it said.

The Victoria Bar Association honoured Woodward and Company with its Contribution to the Law Award for 2014, noting the firm's work on the Tsilqhot'in decision and other cases dating back to 1985.

The award is given for "significant involvement in the development of a legal issue during the year, and which involvement reflects positively on the legal profession," according to a VBA newsletter.  [Tyee]

*Corrected for editing error Nov. 27, 2014.

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