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New sexual harassment claims revealed in takeover of suspended Ottawa lawyer’s practice

Ontario’s Superior Court has ordered the province's law society to take over James Bowie's practice, while court documents filed in support of the move contain previously unheard sexual harassment allegations involving an unnamed client from 2018.

Law Society of Ontario appointed trustee of James Bowie’s business for public's protection

A portrait of a man.

Ontario's Superior Court has ordered the province's law society to take over suspended Ottawa lawyer James Bowie's practice, and court documents filed in support of the move contain previously unheard allegations that Bowie propositioned a client sexually, tried to force himself on her, exposed himself and performed a sexual act in front of her.

Details of the 2018 sexual harassment allegations — which have not been tested in court and do not appear to be the subject of any criminal charges — came to light in court documents filed in Toronto by the Law Society of Ontario (LSO) in its bid to be made trustee of Bowie's business, its records and any funds.

Those documents show Bowie is the subject of 12 law society investigations, including six allegations of sexual harassment.

Bowie has been suspended from practising law since December 2022 for failing to co-operate with LSO investigations into alleged shabby business practices.

He was suspended again in July 2023 for not co-operating with an LSO investigation into allegations that he offered a client, Leanne Aubin, legal services in exchange for sexual acts.

Criminal trial set for September

Aubin went to police, and Bowie's resulting criminal trial is set to be heard this September.

He has pleaded not guilty to charges of extorting Aubin and threatening to kill her on two separate occasions, as well as harassing another woman and trying to get her to obtain a firearm for him.

Bowie is also being sued by Aubin for about $325,000.

He faces the possibility of the lawsuit being handled in court without his involvement because he has not mounted a proper defence.

A publication ban had earlier prevented CBC from naming Aubin, but Ontario Court Justice Marlyse Dumel lifted the ban in April on Aubin's request.

Trusteeship ordered earlier this month

On May 4, Superior Court Justice Cory Gilmore granted the law society's application to be made trustee of Bowie's business and close it down, court records show.

Gilmore found it was right in light of Bowie's suspensions, and the fact that some of his former clients have been asking the society for help to get trust funds and other property back from him, among other things.

Bowie had been required to wind up his practice as a result of his suspensions. But in an affidavit, an LSO investigator wrote that Bowie appeared to still be representing someone in Ottawa's small claims court in January 2023.

The investigator added that other clients of Bowie's were contacting the society to ask about their files and funds held in trust.

It suggested that Bowie "did not comply with his obligations as a suspended lawyer and notify clients nor transfer all client files" to another lawyer, something Bowie declared he had done in an earlier compliance report to the LSO, the investigator wrote.

As well, his law practice website was still active in January 2023 and he was still representing himself as a "barrister and solicitor" on his LinkedIn page, the investigator wrote. (The website is now "under construction" and the LinkedIn page is no longer visible.)

Bowie did not fight the trusteeship or respond to the LSO's allegations — including sexual harassment — in court.

His lawyer appeared on his behalf but she didn't have any instructions from him, Gilmore wrote in his decision.

Kathleen Kealey, who remains on the record as defence counsel for Bowie on the law society matters, said by phone Wednesday that she was not in a position to make any comment.

CBC has been unable to reach Bowie. A business phone number listed in court documents for him is no longer in service, and he has not responded to emails.

Search of Bowie's data also authorized by court

On May 5, Gilmore authorized the LSO to conduct an electronic search of data already seized from Bowie's electronic devices in 2022.

Specifically, the society wants to look up a long list of words and phrases relating to sexual acts, illegal drugs, consuming illegal drugs and more.

Some of the approved search terms include: "proposition," "cocaine," and "do murder."

The law society also wants to search all of Bowie's data for records of 13 people — including an Ottawa defence lawyer — and anyone else whom Bowie might have communicated with using the ordered search words and phrases.

Bowie felt the proposed search was "generally overbroad and all-encompassing of my entire life," he wrote in an email to an LSO investigator in January 2023.

He also wrote that he wasn't being given enough time to consider the request, considering that he was unwell and sleeping during some afternoons.

He requested a month to deal with it.

Nearly a year later, in November 2023, a law society investigator wrote in an affidavit that there had been "no progress in reaching mutually agreeable search terms" for the seized data.

Has claimed mental health struggles

Bowie did not go into more detail about his unwell state in his email to the investigator.

But in an affidavit filed for proceedings in the lawsuit against him, he wrote he's been left in "crippling emotional distress" by all the allegations against him, the "significant media coverage" that followed, and the "social, professional and financial fallout."

He also wrote that his distress and mental health struggles have made adhering to deadlines "extremely difficult."

In his decision, Gilmore wrote that the authorized terms were screened by a committee to make sure they weren't overly intrusive and to protect solicitor-client privilege.

"Given that the allegations against [Bowie] are broad, serious and in the public realm, it is in the best interest of the public that [his] imaged data be searched in accordance with the approved search terms," Gilmore wrote.

The judge also noted that the initial search and seizure order for Bowie's electronic devices was "the first of its kind."

Beforehand, that section of the Law Society Act had only been used to get financial institutions to produce records, Gilmore wrote.

Offered another client sex, cocaine, law society alleges

The six sexual harassment complaints being investigated by the law society were made by clients, members of the public, and a fellow licencee (either a lawyer or paralegal), according to the affidavit of one of their investigators.

The society is also investigating whether Bowie violated solicitor-client privilege by discussing Aubin in a live chat on a social media website, after details about her allegations against Bowie were made public by CTV and the Ottawa Citizen reported his suspension.

The previously unheard allegations involving a different client of Bowie's were made in December 2022, according to a document from the same month written by an LSO manager who requested an investigation.

According to the document, the complainant — whose name is redacted — alleges that after she retained Bowie on a criminal matter in August 2018, he offered her sex and cocaine, "tried to force himself on her physically/sexually," masturbated in front of her, asked her personal questions about her body, and showed up at her house twice, "the second time uninvited."

In her complaint to the law society, the woman included a written record she made in September 2018 about what happened, the document reads.

As for the four remaining sexual harassment complaints, no supporting documentation was filed by the law society.

In each of those investigations, the society is alleging that Bowie "may have engaged in sexual harassment, may have failed to conduct himself with honour and/or integrity, and may have conducted his personal/private affairs in such a manner as to bring discredit upon the profession."

Other allegations being investigated by the LSO include complaints from multiple clients that they paid Bowie to represent them, and that he eventually stopped responding to them and failed to account for how the money had been spent.

Again, Bowie has not responded to the society's allegations in court.

Criminal charges will be 'vigorously defended'

Bowie's criminal lawyer, Eric Granger, wrote in a statement Wednesday that he is not in a position to comment on the LSO matters.

As for the criminal case involving Aubin, Bowie "denies those allegations and they have been set for trial where they will be vigorously defended," Granger wrote.

"It would be inappropriate to comment further while that matter remains before the courts. It would be equally inappropriate for Mr. Bowie to comment on these matters while he has outstanding matters before the courts."

Aubin, meanwhile, is "extremely troubled to learn about the multiple ongoing LSO investigations against Mr. Bowie involving allegations of sexual harassment," her lawyer Christine Johnson wrote in a statement Tuesday.

"She hopes that the LSO's investigations into these complaints proceed as quickly as possible," Johnson wrote.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kristy Nease

Reporter

CBC Ottawa multi-platform reporter Kristy Nease has covered news in the capital for 15 years, and previously worked at the Ottawa Citizen. She has handled topics including intimate partner violence, climate and health care, and is currently focused on justice issues and the courts. Get in touch: kristy.nease@cbc.ca, or 613-288-6435.

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