An accountant {“Walman”) was the subject of disciplinary proceedings by his professional association. Findings of misconduct by the Association were appealed by Walman and eventually overturned. Walman brought an action for abuse of public office against the Association and certain employees which was dismissed as the court found that the evidence did not support an inference that the Association’s auditors recklessly exceeded their powers in the disciplinary hearings.

Administrative law – Accountants – Disciplinary proceedings – Investigative bodies – Jurisdiction – Powers – Abuse of public office

Walman v. Certified General Accountants Assn. of British Columbia, [2002] B.C.J. No. 1560, British Columbia Supreme Court, July 8, 2002, Curtis J.

Walman was an accountant who became the subject of disciplinary proceedings brought by the Certified General Accountants Association (the “Association”). Ms. Jo Coffey was the Investigator for the Association and Ms. B. Waechter was the Chair of the Association’s Ethics Committee which was responsible for conducting the disciplinary proceedings. Walman brought a claim against the Association, Coffey, and Waechter for the tort of abuse of public office.

In March 1997, S. Snow, an employee of Golden Nutrition (1996) Ltd., complained about Walman’s conduct while he was employed to do accounting work for that company. The letter of complaint alleged a series of improprieties including that of improperly discussing particulars of the company’s business with a third party using written and oral profanities. The complaint further alleged that Mr. Walman had failed to contact Revenue Canada as instructed.

On April 8, 1997, the Association sent a letter to Walman requesting information with respect to the complaint. Walman provided a detailed reply in a letter dated April 21, 1997. Mr. Walman also questioned whether the complainant, Ms. Snow, had the proper authority of the company to file the complaint.

Ultimately, a hearing proceeded into the complaint and the Panel found Walman in breach of various rules of the Association’s Code of Ethics and Rules on Professional Conduct. The result of the finding was a reprimand, a fine of $5,000.00, and an order that Walman pay $2,500.00 in costs and attend at certain courses, failing which, he would be suspended and eventually expelled if he did not comply with the Panel’s requirements. Walman appealed the Panel’s decision.

On June 2, 1999, an Appeal Committee of the Association heard the appeal of the Panel’s decision and overturned one specific finding that there had been a breach of one of the Rules of Conduct and reduced the fine from $5,000.00 to $1,500.00. Rules confirmed breached by the Appeal Committee were C401, the use of unprofessional language in communicating with a client; C601, failing to perform professional services with due care; and C711(c), failing to issue a notice to readers in the form prescribed by the handbook. Mr. Walman appealed the decision of the Appeals Committee to the Supreme Court of British Columbia. By decision dated April 5, 2000, Henderson J. allowed the appeal and quashed the findings against Mr. Walman for want of jurisdiction. Henderson J. held that Walman was not given appropriate notice of what was alleged against him prior to the hearing before the Ethics Committee and that this was sufficient ground to quash the findings.

In this case, Walman brought an action alleging that Waechter, Coffey, the Chair and Members of the Panel, and the Chair and Members of the Appeal Committee all committed the intentional tort of abuse of public office by exceeding their powers to investigate and prosecute him. The court held that the evidence in this case clearly demonstrated that the Defendants were following their usual and ordinary procedures in a manner which they believed was proper. The court noted that the Association paid for legal counsel to be present at both the Panel and Appeal Committee proceedings to provide legal advice, if necessary. The court held that the evidence in no way supported an inference that any of the Defendants recklessly exceeded their powers and stated that a court should be cautious before accepting that an administrative body or its personnel were reckless merely because a court of law later found that their procedure did not meet all of the legal requirements. In the result, Walman’s action was dismissed.

To stay current with the new case law and emerging legal issues in this area, subscribe here.