A West Vancouver lawyer who admitted to beating his then-girlfriend while representing her in divorce proceedings has been suspended from practice for three months.
Michael Murph Ranspot will also have to pay $12,087 in fees to the Law Society of BC for professional misconduct and conduct unbecoming of counsel, according to a disciplinary decision issued March 18.
But for Ranspot’s ex-girlfriend, who waited more than six years for Ranspot to be disciplined, the decision is a big disappointment. CBC agreed not to name her, but she is referred to by the initials CC in bar proceedings.
She had pleaded for an 18-month suspension and described the much shorter disciplinary period as a “slap on the wrist”, pointing out that Ranspot had already been disciplined by the bar twice.
“These penalties are not severe enough to cause hindrance or force change,” CC said.
“These insignificant inconveniences are not effective in making an impact…those ‘officers of the court’, the people most knowledgeable about the laws of this country – the very people the public expects to know right from wrong.”
Ranspot beat her inside her home on December 31, 2015, causing injuries serious enough to send CC to the hospital. The Law Society described the nature of the attack as “serious”.
He pleaded guilty to assault causing bodily harm in November 2016 and later received a 16-month conditional discharge, meaning he served probation before the conviction was removed from his criminal record.
Disciplinary decision based on precedent
In the bar’s decision, a disciplinary hearing panel agreed that Ranspot’s assault on CC caused lasting trauma.
“It is difficult to imagine conduct more serious than when a lawyer assaults a vulnerable client who is also his intimate partner,” the decision states.
But the panel went on to say that the maximum penalty in recent cases of intimate partner violence by lawyers was a three-month suspension.
CC filed his initial lawsuit against Ranspot with the bar shortly after the assault, but the disciplinary process was delayed by procedural issues. A hearing panel confirmed the allegations in 2019, but this decision was reversed in 2020 after Ranspot argued that his attorney did not notify him of the hearing.
A second hearing took place last year. A bar hearing committee again found that Ranspot committed conduct unbecoming a lawyer for the assault, and professional misconduct for her conflict of interest in representing CC and lending her money without ensuring that she had independent legal advice.
CC described the delays as painful.
“It takes a lot of strength and courage to come forward as a victim of domestic violence and to go through all the petitions and stages of a legal process,” she said.
“But it adds insult to injury when a disciplinary hearing drags on for more than six years. The abuser, someone who has had such a negative impact on your entire life, is able to carry on as if nothing had happened.”
She also questioned the Law Society’s use of precedent and the structure of its Discipline Hearing Panel, which consisted of two lawyers and a member of the public.
“It is simply no longer acceptable for a panel of peers to spy on each other. This seems to be the exact definition of an ‘old boys club’, using precedents and punishments that were unacceptable 25 years ago” , said CC.
Changes recommended by an expert to the governance of the Law Society
His comments relate to the concerns identified during a recent review of the Law Society’s governance structure by Harry Cayton, international professional regulation expert.
Cayton wrote in his November report that the bar should consider separating its disciplinary tribunals from the bar to ensure their independence.
He added that benchers – members of the law society’s board of directors – should not serve on hearing panels. One of the attorneys who served on Ranspot’s hearing panel was counsel at the time of the disciplinary hearing, and the other was counsel when the decision was issued.
Cayton also wrote that the bar should take a more serious approach to repeat offenders, “recognizing that a very small number of lawyers are responsible for a large number of complaints to the detriment of the public interest and, in fact, of all competent and honest lawyers. “
Ranspot has already been disciplined twice.
It was suspended from practice for 18 months from 1997 after billing the Legal Services Society for legal aid he failed to provide, among other instances of misconduct. He was too fined in 2007 for professional misconduct.
He was also the subject of practice reviews in 2001 and 2009 related to a number of Law Society concerns, including his fitness to practice and the adequacy of his communications with clients, according to the disciplinary decision.
The bar said it is considering all of Cayton’s recommendations.