Disbarred B.C. lawyer sexually harassed vulnerable client: panel

A discipline panel has ruled a disbarred Nanaimo, B.C., lawyer committed professional misconduct after sexually harassing a vulnerable client in 2016.

Marc Andre Eckardt, also known as Marc Andre Scheirer, was disbarred last December for sexually assaulting another client. He was criminally convicted, and handed a suspended sentence, for the 2018 assault.

The latest case concerns a client, named AR in the Law Society of B.C. decision, who said Eckardt touched her inappropriately on multiple occasions, which left her "petrified."

The decision details how it took years for the woman to speak up, fearful of the power disparity between her and Eckardt, and the fact that he was appointed by legal aid left her with few options.

"The complainant also testified about her personal history of dealing with trauma and abuse while growing up and in her most recent relationship, and that her experience with [Eckardt] led to her feeling 'helpless and invisible,'" the decision reads.

The decision says Eckardt did not contest any of AR's claims in the case, and apologized to her for making her feel uncomfortable, saying it was not his intent to do so.

A law society panel found that Eckardt's actions constituted sexual harassment and professional misconduct.

Symbol of law and justice in the empty courtroom, law and justice concept. Photo ID: 465586604 lawyer court judge stock
Eckardt did not contest any of AR's claims, according to a Law Society of B.C. decision. (corgarashu/Shutterstock)

Client left crying in her car

The decision says that AR was trying to get a protection order and custody of her three children when she met Eckardt in his office in June 2016.

After she entered, she found no one at the reception desk — and then a man, later identified as Eckardt, came up to her and put his arms around her upper chest. AR told the panel that he pressed her body against the front of his.

"At that point the complainant 'froze' with fear," the decision reads. "After a period described by the complainant as approximately one minute, she said [Eckardt] chuckled, released her and asked her to come into his office."

After she went into the office, AR said that the disgraced lawyer started rubbing his socked foot against her feet and leg under his desk.

While the complainant said she did not recall much of what she told Eckardt at the meeting, she remembered the lawyer asking her if she planned on having any more children.

When she told him no, according to the decision, the lawyer remarked how lucky he would be if AR was the mother of his children.

After the meeting, which lasted for an hour and a half, AR testified that Eckardt seemed to lean in for a kiss or hug, which caused her to panic and run out of the building.

"After she got into her car, [AR] sat and cried for a few minutes before going home," the decision reads.

"She also cried sitting in her car in the driveway of her home," it adds.

Another witness testifies of inappropriate touching

In October 2016, AR told the panel that Eckardt appeared dishevelled and drunk at a court appearance as she sought a protection order against her former spouse.

AR told the panel that while she, Eckardt and her friend — named TW in the decision — sat on a bench outside the courtroom, the lawyer touched her inappropriately once again.

TW testified that Eckardt touched her friend on her upper thigh, and that his conduct made AR feel uncomfortable at the time.

Exterior of Nanaimo Courthouse, at 35 Front Street, Nanaimo, an example of Richardsonian Romanesque archtectural style,
The exterior of the Nanaimo courthouse in the Vancouver Island city. (Justin McElroy/CBC)

"The panel finds that [Eckardt's] conduct detrimentally affected the complainant's experience as she accessed necessary legal services, and led to adverse consequences," the disciplinary decision reads.

AR came forward after Eckardt received a six-month suspension from the law society in 2022 for "predatory conduct" involving another female client.