Throughout my legal career, I have been guided by two fundamental principles: fairness and social justice.
If I bring one thing to my practice today – whether as a lawyer or as a mediator or as an arbitrator – it is the ability to see the ‘forest for the trees’, to understand the larger context and to provide my clients with principled, strategic legal advice and decisions based on fairness and social justice.
I started my career in law in 1981 as a Community Legal Worker with Dalhousie Legal Aid Service. I worked as an advocate for the poor and otherwise disadvantaged people in the North End of Halifax for seven years before, during and after going to Law School. I did landlord-tenant cases, social assistance appeals, youth criminal justice cases, labour standards complaints, refugee claims, child welfare and family law cases. Part of my job was as a community organizer advocating for law reform on behalf of the clinic’s clientele. I also taught advocacy and client interviewing to hundreds of law students over those years, many of whom have since gone on to successful careers as lawyers and judges.
I graduated from Dalhousie Law School in 1987. While at Law School, I was the recipient of a number of awards and scholarships, including the prestigious Smith Shield, the A.S. Patillo Prize for Advocacy and the R. Graham Murray Prize in Evidence. I published my first article in a legal journal on a labour-law topic while still a student. I returned to Dalhousie Law School for post-graduate work in Health Law, Policy and Ethics in 2006. I was awarded a graduate Fellowship in Health Law, Policy and Ethics by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. My LL.B. degree was converted to a Juris Doctor (JD) degree by Dalhousie University in 2011.
I first went into private law practice in 1988. I was a partner, and later Managing Partner, with Muttart Tufts Dewolfe & Coyle in Kentville, Nova Scotia. In my 19 years with that firm, I concentrated on trials, appeals, labour relations, human rights and municipal government law. My firm represented the County of Kings and the Town of Kentville and I was for many years the solicitor for the Valley Regional Solid Waste Management Authority, comprised of eight municipalities in the Valley Region, and the solicitor for the Valley Community Fibre Network, an inter-municipal authority that included Acadia University and the Nova Scotia Community College as members. While I had occasion to represent some large employers, banks and government agencies over that time, mostly my clients were in fact ordinary people, farmers and small businesses.
I was admitted to membership in the Nova Scotia Institute of Agrologists as a licensed Professional Agrologist (P.Ag) in 2000 because of my work in the area of Agricultural law and policy. I am also a member of the Canadian College of Health Leaders (since 2005).
I have conducted workshops and presentations on Board Governance, Strategic Planning, Employment Policies and Risk Management for municipal governments and non-profit agencies throughout Nova Scotia.
I often speak at Labour Law conferences, such as Lancaster House or Insight. Recently, I was co-chair of the 2010 Annual Insight Atlantic Labour & Employee Relations conference in Halifax where I also spoke on Attendance Management and the Duty to Accommodate Sick or Injured Employees. In 2011, I presented on Successful Strategies in Labour Arbitrations and co-led a full day Lancaster House workshop called Strategies and Tactics in Bargaining: Practical Guidance on the Bargaining Process and on Interest-Based Bargaining.
I returned to private law practice in 2011 after several years in the public sector and as Legal Counsel and Chief Negotiator for the Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union. I handled strategic planning, multi-table contract negotiations, grievance arbitrations, labour board applications and professional conduct complaints, among other things.
I currently hold appointments from all three levels of government. The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service has named me as a Labour Arbitrator, Unjust Dismissal Adjudicator and Wage Recovery Referee under the Canada Labour Code and as an Adjudicator under the Wage Earner Protection Program Act.
in 2009 the Provincial Cabinet appointed me as Chair of the Nova Scotia Election Commission. The Election Commission is the body that considers and advises on all things having to do with electoral processes, campaign finances and the regulation of political parties. My appointment is for a five year renewable term and, like a judge, I can only be removed by a resolution of the House of Assembly.
I have also been appointed to serve as Town Solicitor for the Town of Bridgetown, Nova Scotia.
I have served on many non-profit boards, including the Annapolis Valley District Health Authority, the Nova Scotia Civil Liberties Association, the Annapolis Valley-Hants Community Action Program for Children, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the Apple Tree Landing Children’s Centre.
I currently provide a free legal consultation service for persons disabilities on referral through reachAbility.org and I hold a free walk-in legal clinic weekly (Thursdays 6-7 pm) at Valley Community Learning Association offices (50 Cornwallis Street) in Kentville.
In my spare time, I like to play and record music (on my own and with friends) and, when time permits, I do some small-scale farming. I live in a coastal farming and fishing community in rural Kings County, Nova Scotia with my partner, Sandra Dennis.