WARNING: this story contains details of assault:
A Brandon lawyer can’t practice law until he overcomes his addictions because he breached conditions stemming from unwanted sexual overtures he made with women in the legal profession over several years.
A law society disciplinary panel suspended Ryan William Fawcett from practising law indefinitely after he was found guilty of professional misconduct and conduct unbecoming a lawyer, according to a notice issued on Dec. 20. He pleaded guilty.
Fawcett breached conditions set by the law society that he abstain from alcohol and report relapses, and that he not contact any women in the legal profession outside of work.
He isn’t allowed to reapply to practise again until he proves his “addictions are under control with a reasonable demonstration of stability such that he can be trusted to practise under such conditions.”
Fawcett must also reimburse the law society $5,000 for hearing costs.
The sanctions were jointly agreed to by the law society and Fawcett’s lawyer, Greg Bartel.
According to details from a disciplinary panel written decision dated Dec. 11, Fawcett offered a “sincere apology to those individuals who were harmed by his misconduct.”
Bartel said his client accepts responsibility and “has paid (and continues to pay) a heavy price as a consequence of his illness.”
Fawcett was called to the bar in June 2001 and based in Brandon, where he worked for Legal Aid Manitoba and practised criminal defence and public interest law.
The latest development stems from unwanted “sexual and harassing” communications with five women over several years beginning in August 2016, the law society states.
‘Emotionally distressing’ messages
The law society, which regulates the legal profession in Manitoba, banned Fawcett in 2020 from communicating with women coworkers for non-work matters. That ban was then expanded to all women in the legal profession.
The law society charged Fawcett with one count of harassment or sexual harassment, and one count of conduct unbecoming a lawyer. He was also charged with a breach of integrity. He pleaded guilty.
Fawcett was required to undergo treatment and abstain from drinking, and report to the law society within two days if he ever relapsed.
His absences from practising law in 2008, 2009 and 2020 “have all arisen from, or been related to, these struggles,” the law society said.
In one case highlighted by the law society, his unwanted online or telephone messages to one woman were “emotionally distressing and perhaps even frightening for her.”
Pleaded guilty to common assault
Fawcett was also accused of assault after an incident at a Brandon bar in 2017.
The law society documents say Fawcett got intoxicated while drinking with an articling student, lawyer and one other person. At one point he “grabbed [her] left breast over her clothing for about five seconds.”
That student filed a complaint with the law society, and later reported it to Brandon police in the fall of 2020.
Fawcett was initially charged with sexual assault and pleaded not guilty, according to court documents.
He apologized, pleaded guilty in court to a lesser charge of common assault in November 2021, and was required to undergo counselling and addictions treatment as part of two years of supervised probation.
Breach of conditions
Fawcett was issued a reprimand in 2022 and permitted to work again with conditions around the settings he could practise in, though he never applied for reinstatement.
He also breached conditions set by the law society around communicating with women in the legal profession.
Fawcett matched with a woman on a dating app in late 2021 who identified in her profile that she was a legal assistant.
She became uncomfortable during a phone conversation a few days later when he appeared to be intoxicated, according to the law society. She also found news online about disciplinary actions against him and blocked his number.
By early 2022, the law society added a charge of professional misconduct. He was also charged that year with breaching conditions.
‘Battle with his addictions’
Rocky Kravetsky, the lawyer representing the law society, said during disciplinary hearings last fall that Fawcett had demonstrated he was a competent lawyer who served marginalized members of society.
None of the misconduct occurred during work hours and it didn’t “cast doubt on his ability or competence to act as a criminal defence,” according to the law society hearings.
Kravetsky said at the time that the discipline process needed to take into account that addiction is an illness in deciding punishment and rehabilitative measures.
“Based on his previous successes in the long-standing battle with his addictions, it is reasonable to expect a good outcome for Mr. Fawcett, the [law] society and the public they both strive to serve,” said the law society. “Until that outcome is achieved, however, he will be kept out of practise.”