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Kingston lawyer suspended from practice for possession of child porn

Photo by Bill Oxford.

A Kingston lawyer guilty of possessing and accessing child pornography in 2019, committed “conduct unbecoming a barrister or solicitor,” and has been suspended from the Law Society of Ontario for 26 months, followed by practice restrictions and two years of ongoing treatment/reporting requirements.

According to documentation from the The Law Tribunal of Ontario, the decision against former lawyer Robert Splinter was made on Monday, Apr. 26, 2021 following a January videoconference.

Natasha Giuffre, for the Law Society of Ontario, and  Mark Ertel, for the respondent, Mr. Splinter, entered an agreed statement of facts in a joint submission to the tribunal.

In the submission Splinter acknowledged that, in committing the criminal offences of possessing and accessing child pornography, he engaged in “conduct unbecoming a barrister or solicitor” of the Law Society of Ontario.

Robert Joseph Splinter’s licence to practise law was ordered suspended immediately, until March 1, 2023. He must also pay costs to the Law Society in the amount of $2,500 on or before the deadline of September 30, 2023. 

The finding of “Conduct unbecoming a barrister or solicitor” by the Law Society Tribunal, means conduct, including conduct in a lawyer’s personal or private capacity, that tends to bring discredit upon the legal profession.

The tribunal noted that, “Possession of child pornography is a morally repugnant crime that victimizes some of the most vulnerable members of society. Possession of child pornography causes harm to children in multiple ways – it promotes cognitive distortions, fuels fantasies that incite offenders to offend, and is used for grooming and seducing victims. Real children may be abused in the production. Even when a case is over, the victim whose image is posted online is abused continually as the images never completely disappear.”

“As a lawyer,” the document continues, “Mr. Splinter was under an enhanced duty to respect and follow the law, not violate it. By engaging in the criminal acts underlying his convictions, and particularly given the gravity of his offences, Mr. Splinter failed to do so, thus bringing discredit not only on himself, but also on the integrity of the legal profession. Mr. Splinter therefore engaged in conduct unbecoming a lawyer.”

Should he return to practise, Splinter is also restricted from practising law in any field where the subject matter is related to those offences detailed at Part V of the Criminal Code of Canada: Sexual Offences, Public Morals and Disorderly Conduct. He also may not represent or appear on behalf of any person under the age of 16.

Furthermore, Splinter must provide regular reports from his psychologist proving his attendance and participation in any recommended treatment.  The psychologist must also advise the Law Society if he/she has any concerns about his ability to meet any of his obligations as a licensee of the Society.

Following an investigation of several months into users of a peer-to-peer file sharing network who were suspected of being in possession of child pornography, Kingston Police searched Splinter’s residence on February 6, 2019. Police seized various electronic devices containing more than 2,000 videos and 1,000 images of child pornography which had been amassed between 2012 and 2019. 

Subsequent police investigation confirmed that child pornography had also been accessed on the electronic devices.

Splinter was arrested, charged and released on bail. As a term of his release, he began living with his parents.

On October 24, 2019, Splinter pled guilty and was convicted of unlawfully possessing and accessing child pornography.  

In sentencing, the trial judge addressed Splinter, “I want you to understand, sir, and I want the public generally to understand that every time an image that is child pornography is viewed that re-victimizes the child. Those children are re-victimized time and time again, perhaps thousands of times over. That is how abhorrent these offences are.”

The judge imposed a sentence of three years in prison and made various additional orders related to the nature of the offences (i.e. following his release from prison, a 10-year prohibition on any employment involving a position of trust or authority towards persons under 16 years old). Mr. Splinter began serving his sentence immediately.

According to the Law Tribunal, Splinter “demonstrated insight into the effect of his misconduct on others; was a good candidate for rehabilitation given his efforts in counselling and treatment with a psychologist; was reported by his psychologist to be at low risk for re-offending; was remorseful and fully co-operative with the criminal and disciplinary proceedings; and would be supported in his re-integration into practice by the conditions proposed by the parties, including for continued treatment and reporting.”

The tribunal noted that “there are few reported cases dealing with the professional discipline of lawyers arising from convictions related to possession of child pornography.” And, “  As noted by counsel, each case is dependent on its own facts.”

Facts considered in this case took into account Robert Splinter’s history of depression, good performance reviews, and that there were no concerns from a Senior Lawyer at his firm “about his professional ability or competence.”

They also considered that, while awaiting his hearing on the criminal charges, Mr. Splinter began seeing a psychologist to address his use of child pornography, and to mitigate his risk. 

Multiple court-ordered psychological assessments found that Splinter “felt significant remorse for his behaviour, had a good understanding of the areas that he needed to address, had made significant progress in addressing those areas.”  It was also confirmed that Splinter, “presented a below-average risk for future child pornography and sexual offending, was a good candidate for rehabilitation and posed a minimal risk to the community, particularly in the context of receiving psychological treatment.”

After his period of custody, which occurred without incident, in mid-April 2020, Splinter was granted parole to live at his parents’ home. His warrant expiry date is October 23, 2022.

Splinter has no prior criminal or discipline history and according to the Tribunal, “On the issue of whether the misconduct is out of character or likely to recur, we are impressed by the work that Mr. Splinter has done to ensure that his misconduct is not repeated, and by his commitment to continue doing so.”

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