A former law dean at the University of Manitoba is facing a charge of professional misconduct, following an investigation into allegations that he misused school funds during his stint at Robson Hall.

A former law dean at the University of Manitoba is facing a charge of professional misconduct, following an investigation into allegations that he misused school funds during his stint at Robson Hall.

The Law Society of Manitoba has laid a charge of failure to act with integrity against Jonathan Black-Branch, who oversaw Robson Hall from 2016 until spring 2020 — when he went on what would become a permanent, unexplained leave.

"I can confirm that we were contacted by the University of Manitoba with respect to concerns that arose while Jonathan Black-Branch was dean of the law school, and the concerns arose from an audit of the use of university funds by him," said Leah Kosokowsky, chief executive officer of the professional regulator.

Kosokowsky said the society undertook an investigation and a charge was authorized on Aug. 18.

Leah Kosokowsky said the society undertook an investigation and a charge was authorized on Aug. 18.

Black-Branch, who remains a member of the society, did not respond to requests for comment.

Almost five months ago, he was unlisted as a practising professional on Manitoba's lawyer registry because he was deemed "inactive," meaning he was not paying practising fees and is no longer insured so he cannot work in the province.

Black-Branch is, however, currently listed as a self-employed lawyer in London with a certificate that is valid until April 2022 in the Barristers’ Register, a United Kingdom listing of anyone who has been called to the bar in England and Wales and is authorized to practise.

The entry indicates his areas of practice include arbitration, international and public law, and professional discipline. It also states his primary work address is at 1GC Family Law, although he is not listed on the firm’s website.

Last summer, the U of M published a whistleblower report that outlined a single disclosure of alleged financial mismanagement by an unnamed senior employee. An internal investigation into the tip found wrongdoing occurred "with respect to the purchase of goods and services, conflict of interest, and mismanagement and misuse of funds" and that the employee also directed others to commit wrongdoing.

The school itself has remained mum on the matter, citing personnel and privacy matters.

The report recommended school administration address "internal control weaknesses" related to discretionary funds, particular invoice processes and the monitoring of spending patterns of expense claim submissions.

Not long after the document was made public, a group of U of M-affiliated lawyers sent a confidential letter to the law society, outlining their shared and all-but-certain belief Black-Branch was the unnamed employee. The authors noted the fact their former boss mentioned in late 2019 that central administration was intensively looking into his management, as well as his sudden departure.

The school itself has remained mum on the matter, citing personnel and privacy matters.

A spokesperson for the U of M said Thursday the university recently underwent a "rigorous review" of financial oversight policies and has since enhanced them by revising policies and procedures and adding reporting requirements, among other items.

To date, faculty at Robson Hall remain in the dark about the circumstances surrounding Black-Branch’s departure.

"The fact that he’s been charged is obviously an important step in finding out what happened here and informing the public."

"We’ve been told that he was here and then he wasn’t here," said one of the lawyers who signed the August 2020 letter. "The fact that he’s been charged is obviously an important step in finding out what happened here and informing the public."

Prior to Black-Branch’s dean appointment in Manitoba, he worked in various academic leadership positions in schools in the U.K. and Denmark. Three months after leaving U of M, he was named head of England's Southampton Law School, but the school cut ties with Black-Branch after Winnipeg news outlets inquired about the appointment.

The law society's hearing council is in the process of preparing a citation that will set out specifics of the charge against the former dean.

A date for Black-Branch’s disciplinary hearing, during which he will be able to contest all evidence, has yet to be set.

A lawyer found guilty of a professional charge can be penalized via reprimand, fine, suspension or disbarment.

maggie.macintosh@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh
Reporter

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.

   Read full biography