Howard Pontious’ stint as a fill-in Crown counsel lawyer in Vernon lasted longer than he anticipated.
Two of Vernon’s main Crown lawyers, Peter Favel and Dan McLaughlin, had been assigned to work on the trials of members of an organized crime gang known as The Greeks. That was in 2006.
Pontious, 64, who retired in January, came to town to help out and never left.
“It’s been a very good experience here,” said Pontious. “There were lots of interesting cases, memorable cases. I’ve done everything here from dangerous offenders to three or four murders down to bylaw enforcement. There was a big variety. Every day is different.”
Originally from Coquitlam, Pontious attended both Simon Fraser University and the University of B.C., where he obtained his law degree in 1976. He started his career with the New Westminster firm of Goodwin and Mark, officially called to the bar in May 1977.
“I did a bit of everything there,” said Pontious, a divorced father of three. “I did bail reviews out of Oakalla (prison). Then I did a lot of foreclosure work, civil litigation, some family law, which I hated.”
Pontious then moved to a firm in Vancouver to do more of the foreclosure work which, as he says, “is all about money and business issues and it’s pretty dull.”
So he did some legal aid criminal defence work at the Vancouver Criminal Court offices in 1978 and won his first case.
“My client was mentally handicapped and I could relate as I had a mentally handicapped sister,” said Pontious. “I felt quite good about helping him win his case and I enjoyed that experience.”
He did some more cases, admitting to “getting his ass kicked” by big-name lawyers like G. Jack Harris, Russ Chamberlain and Dudley Edwards, before realizing a move to the Interior from Surrey, where he was living with his wife, made sense financially. So Pontious took a job with Crown counsel in Kamloops.
He would stay there for 25 years, though Pontious left the Crown after a couple of years to open his own defence practice.
After his marriage ended, with three kids to support and tired of the hustle of private practice, Crown in Kamloops offered Pontious a secure position, which he accepted in December 2005. Six months later, Pontious and his kids were on their way to Vernon.
Two cases stand out for the veteran lawyer: the cases against Paul Lepage and Mark Simpson.
Both involved awful sexual assaults against young female victims, Lepage kidnapping a young girl off an Armstrong street, and Simpson assaulting a pair of employees at a Vernon fast food restaurant.
Both ended up with wins for Pontious with Lepage and Simpson being declared dangerous offenders, resulting in an indeterminate jail sentence for both.
“The young girl from Armstrong was the most remarkable witness,” said Pontious. “She could remember specific details you couldn’t get from a professional witness. She picked up his cigarette butts and put them in her pocket for DNA analysis because she had watched that on TV on CSI Miami.
“She remembered everything he had in his pack. The specifics of his type of hat. When he got caught, that gave us a very strong case. He was declared a dangerous offender and taken off the street likely for the rest of his life. For that, I’m grateful.”
A typical Pontious work week depends on his case work. If he’s doing a dangerous offender designation, that’s something that consumes him completely and may take several weeks to complete.
“Usually I do a multitude of things in a given week,” he said. “If I’m trial Crown, I usually have two or three trial days and do a number of trials, sentencing and bail matters. If I’m in Supreme Court, the case is generally set for a week so that’s generally what I’ll do.”
After 37 years in court rooms, Pontious now plans to do quite a bit of travelling, spending time at his residence in Vancouver and do lots of reading and hiking.
“I’ll be fine,” he smiled. “I’m looking forward to retirement. It’s time to do something different.”