Practicing law without a license

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services

Summary

Report about the legal troubles of a woman practicing law without a license

You wrote to complain about an item that appeared on CBC News: Sunday on January 6, 2008. The item concerned a woman in North Bay named Maureen Boldt who was sentenced to house arrest by a judge for what were termed “willful” violations of a court order. It was found that she had been, in effect, practicing law without a license.

You complained that the story contained “inaccuracies,” although the main one appears to be a reference to Ms. Boldt being convicted by the Law Society. In fact, as the producer admitted, Ms. Boldt, as noted elsewhere in the story, was convicted by a judge.

The heart of the complaint appears to be the absence of documentation of what you call “the wreckage” left behind by Ms. Boldt's activities.

The producer, Patsy Pehleman, responded, admitting that the reference to the Law Society was “sloppy” and inaccurate. She also pointed out that efforts were made to convince North Bay lawyers to be interviewed on the subject and, presumably, talk about the “wreckage,” but that no one, including you, would speak on camera.

You rejected Ms. Pehleman's explanation and asked for a review. My apologies again for the gross delay in responding.

The item factually recounted the history of Ms. Boldt's legal troubles. She, herself, said that she pleaded guilty to a count of handling an uncontested divorce. Then, her subsequent conviction of contempt by Justice Hennessy. Several times in the piece we heard from the treasurer of the Law Society of Upper Canada who spoke of Ms. Boldt's “egregious conduct.” It perhaps would have been useful to have the perspective of local practitioners who claim that they had to pick up the pieces after this “egregious conduct.”

The bulk of the item was about the effects on Ms. Boldt of her conviction, rather than a debate about the conviction. I presume you are not arguing that Ms. Boldt or the CBC do not have the right to discuss these issues. The issue is whether the matter was presented fairly: by my viewing, the conviction was discussed by Ms. Boldt and by Mr. MacLeod

of the Law Society. There was certainly sufficient material for a viewer to form an opinion about the matter.

I also noted from stories and comments around the item that there is some groundswell of support for Ms. Boldt. Lawyers in North Bay may not like that, but it would appear to be a reality which a journalist cannot ignore. I also noted the fact that the same Law Society which brought complaints forward is allowing Ms. Boldt to take the exam to qualify as a paralegal under the new procedures.

Conclusion

The item is largely unexceptional—a “profile” of a person apparently properly convicted of contempt of court whose actions appear to highlight some anomalies in the law, and who has received substantial public support, despite her conviction. The item was marred by the sloppy and inaccurate reference to the nature of Ms. Boldt's conviction.

That reference is, of course, a violation of CBC Journalistic Policy. I note that the producer has apologized for that error. The remainder of the item does not violate CBC's Journalistic Standards and Practices.

Vince Carlin
CBC Ombudsman