Monday, May 11, 2015

FRIDAY, MAY 08, 2015


Proposed changes to the Law Society of Manitoba like rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic!

Goal/Mandate: "A public well-served by an independent and competent legal profession. To act in the public interest to ensure lawyers practice competently and ethically."

Good Day Readers:

To which CyberSmokeBlog says ..... "Balls!" Here's why.
That apropos deckchair analogy comes from a well-informed British Columbia reader who's been a self-rep for several years, tangled with the Canadian Judicial Council (still is) plus has had extensive, first-hand experience dealing with and researching the law society there.

Manitoba's newly appointed Justice Minister Gord Mackintosh (Man oh man that Selinger NDP government is imploding changing cabinet ministers as often as the Premier changes his underwear which, hopefully, is every day!). All Conservative opposition leader Brian Pallister has to do is refrain from saying and doing anything beyond stupid, smile angelically and he'll be the province's next Premier come 2016. Mr. Greg Selinger sure has been ....ing-up lately.

Law societies have been called "flaw societies" and "the world's most powerful trade union" with very good reason to which CyberSmokeBlogwould add thank God they're not allowed to wield baseball bats! Can you imagine how even more dangerous (if possible) they'd be if allowed to maintain a supply at the ready of Louisville Sluggers?

Section 79 (1) and (2) of the Legal Profession Act of Manitoba - Only a Lawyer Could Like Once Caught
A special thank you to the faithful, eagle-eyed CSB reader who e-mailed a copy of the province's May 7, 2015 press release (reproduced below) to which the mainstream media only paid scant, easily missed passing,reference.
These provisions provide that essentially any individual via the social media, for example, naming an accused lawyer prior to a finding of misconduct can be fined up to $2,000 and/or a maximum of 6-months in jail. For the mainstream media it can be $10,000. Not only that, the names of clients hosed by the accused cannot be identified. Do so and you'd be barred from those portions of hearings where testimony of such was tendered. That's covered somewhere in the LPAM's 110 sections under solicitor-client privilege. Jezus, that's draconian right out of England's 16th century Star Chamber trials that were clothed in secrecy!
That has meant CyberSmokeBlog, or anyone else for that matter, covering an ongoing high profile disciplinary hearing (several month now in the works as yet still unresolved), is reduced to referring to the accused and their two person legal team as "Team Accused." How beyond asinine can you get?

When the Justice Minister said (in part) in the government's press release:

"These amendments to the Legal Profession Act would give the law society new powers to regulate law firms, not just individual lawyers ..... ."

it clearly demonstrates he still just doesn't get it. While the proposed changes represent a slight improvement they're like peeing in the ocean.
Continuing the baseball analogy (speaking figuratively of course), what you're proposing Mr. Macintosh is giving the LSM more Louisville Sluggers but this time they're the latest in high-tech. The Legal Profession Act of Manitoba is in need of a major re-write at the centrepiece of which should be completely removing the Society's ability to discipline lawyers. Take that out of their purview by placing the function in the hands of an independent, far, far arms-length third-party government agency. Britain did this a few years ago as have multiple American Law Associations (equivalent to our Law Societies).

You need to do your homework Mr. Minister. In case you hadn't noticed, law societies have become far too powerful/arrogant and require reigning in.

Thank God Premier Selinger has been given to totally ....ing up lately such that he and his revolving door cabinet will be out on their hairy,little, big arses holding them in their hands come the next provincial election in 2016 replete with their juicy, taxpayer fully indexed pensions and benefits packages which they helped put in place.

To cite but one example although there have been at least 5-6 others lately, Liam Martin (son of Winnipeg Centre NDP Member of Parliament Pat "Big Mouth Think Later" Martin) who served as Mr. Selinger's Chief of Staff when recently released fired was given a severance settlement of a cool $146,000 for about 3-years work. Not bad eh? That's sure starting to sound like The People's Republic of Manitobastan.

Hopefully, his father will also be out on his ass come the next federal election later this year (October 19). In both cases it's time to give another political party 4-years to see how it can totally ....-up the provincial/national finances.

The Law Society of Manitoba Needs to Smarten Up ..... Fast!

Recently Rocco Galati and Joseph Groia were appointed to the Law Society of Upper Canada (Ontario) as Benchers. Talk about adding a couple foxes to that proverbial chicken coop.

Rocco you will have already likely heard about. He's been a real bug up the ass of the Harper Government while Mr. Grocia was recently convicted by the LSUC of being uncivil to fellow counsel in a courtroom (professional misconduct). Sounds like he may have told some of his "learned friends" along the way to go .... themselves. He was ordered to pay $200,000 in costs but this has been repeatedly stayed while he continues to challenge the ruling. The conviction was upheld by an appeal panel and the Divisional Court but he has now applied for leave to appeal to the Ontario Court of Appeal.

But get this Minister Mackintosh. he said,

"I think over the last 13 years of dealing with the law society, I've come to realize in many ways, how far out of touch the society has become with the needs of the profession and the needs of the public."

Man oh man can you imagine if Messrs Galati and Groia were Benchers at the Law Society of Manitoba. They'd sure give the place a much needed shaking up.

You can read more about these appointments at:

http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2015/05/01/legal-scrappers-rocco-galati-and-joseph-groia-elected-law-society-benchers.html

Is the LSM Fulfilling Its Goal/Mandate - You Be the Judge and Jury

CyberSmokeBlog doesn't think so. Here's why. Several weeks ago occasioned by reading the CBC News article (reprinted below), it separately e-mailed two senior officials at the Law Society of Manitoba with the question:

If someone unschooled in the ways of law societies were to contact the LSM because they were contemplating hiring a lawyer who was under active investigation or perhaps even suspended would The Society tell the potential client said solicitor:

(1) was indeed being investigated even though that would risk violating the LPAM section 79 provisions thereby leaving itself open to a $2,000 fine and/or 6-months in jail? Now wouldn't that be amusing?

(2) was suspended from practicing?

(3) had prior conviction(s) for professional misconduct and how to research the details?

And the answer was (drum roll) ..... CSB only received half an answer if you can even call it that. CyberSmokeBlog was referred to another senior official who has never responded. Not wishing to embarrass anyone, ladies, ladies bad form ..... bad, bad form. Do you really think that's living up to the organization's goal/mandate? CyberSmokeBlog certainly doesn't.
Notice how the LSM got "honourable mention" in the CBC article. But take heart LSM the LSUC seems to take the cake for ....ed-up law societies in Canada. How many other case studies like this are there out there. God only knows. Hopefully, Messrs Galati and Groia will begin cleaning up the Law Society of Upper Canada.

CyberSmokeBlog rests its case ..... at least for now

CSB will be back at the Law Society of Manitoba for a hearing on May 15th.

Sincerely,
Clare L. Pieuk

premier@leg.mb.ca
jusmin@leg.mb.ca
May 7, 2015

PROVINCE INTRODUCES AMENDMENTS THAT WOULD PROVIDE GREATER TRANSPARENCY, ACCOUNTABILITY FOR LEGAL PROFESSION

New Rules Would Enable Publicizing Names of Lawyers Charged With Offences,

More Public Representation on Governing Body:  Minister Mackintosh

The Manitoba government has proposed legislative amendments that would give the Law Society of Manitoba greater regulatory oversight of the legal profession including enabling media to publish the names of lawyers charged with disciplinary offences, Justice Minister Gord Mackintosh announced today.

"These amendments to the Legal Profession Act would give the law society new powers to regulate law firms, not just individual lawyers," said Minister Mackintosh.  "The changes would also result in the publication of the names of all lawyers who are facing charges prior to conviction. These measures would increase transparency and accountability, while also providing greater protection for the public."

Other provinces, including Nova Scotia, British Columbia and Saskatchewan, have amended their legal profession legislation to permit the regulation of law firms.  The proposed amendments would bring Manitoba's legislation in line with other jurisdictions and would permit the law society to regulate law firms.

Minister Mackintosh noted the proposed amendment allowing media to name lawyers charged with offences would follow approval of a set of standards regarding disciplinary action by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada.

"The law society will disclose the identity of lawyers charged with professional misconduct under the Legal Profession Act and media will now be able to publish those names, which will ensure that the public is better informed and thus better protected," said Kristin Dangerfield, chief executive officer of the Law Society of Manitoba.  "The proposed amendments would ensure that not only individual lawyers but also the law firms in which they practise are subject to regulation and are accountable to the public consumers of legal services."

This proposed legislation would also increase public oversight of the law society's governing body by adding two non-lawyers, which would bring the membership to six, Minister Mackintosh said. Practising lawyers could be appointed to the governing body if they possess required skills or meet other criteria.

"Implementing these amendments would ensure Manitoba's regulation of the legal profession is consistent with other provinces," said Minister Mackintosh.  "It would ensure our legal profession meets national standards related to disciplinary action and permits the law society to provide more effective oversight."
Clients feel scammed as alleged lawyer misconduct kept quiet

Tens of thousands of dollars lost by small clients who trusted advice on whom to hire

By Kathy Tomlinson
Monday, September 15, 2014



Clients of two lawyers accused of serious misconduct are outraged over being kept in the dark about their lawyers’ records, which they said derailed their cases and cost them thousands.

“I got scammed by a lawyer, and the law society told me he was fine. That’s what really hurts a lot,” said Vancouver resident Angelika Opic.

She hired Toronto lawyer Michael Munro after being led to believe he had a clean record by the regulator.

Toronto lawyer Michael Munro faces charges of lying to a client and failing to account for $37,000 of that client's fees among other allegations. (Toronto Star)

Winnipeg resident Carrie Forsythe hired lawyer Barry Gorlick after he was recommended to her by another lawyer who knew Gorlick’s discipline record but didn’t tell her.

“I was told there was nobody who could look after me better. That’s a quote,” she said.

Both Munro and Gorlick have since been suspended over unrelated cases.

$25,000 gone

“I just thought he was laughing at me. I just thought I’d been made a fool of,” said Opic, who lost $25,000 after hiring Munro in December to contest her mother’s will.

She said she was heartbroken — then shocked — when her mother died and left the family home to her brother in Ontario.

Winnipeg lawyer Barry Gorlick is under suspension facing serious charges of misconduct. (Canadian Bar Association)

Opic said her mother had dementia, and her signature on her last will and testament is very shaky. The will left Opic $60,000, far less than the value of the home. She is adamant her mother would not have done that if she had been of sound mind.

“She really wasn’t herself the last five years,” said Opic.

Before hiring Munro to contest the will, she contacted the Law Society of Upper Canada, asking about his record. She was told he was in good standing.

“I thought I had done my due diligence,” Opic said.

No warning

She wasn’t told Munro had been under heavy scrutiny since 2012, because of eight serious complaints against him.

When Opic hired him, he had already been warned by the law society he was facing suspension for failing to co-operate with investigators.

Even so, he took almost half the money her mother left her as a retainer. He originally asked for her entire inheritance.
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With respect to financial matters, I will require a retainer in the amount of $60,000. You should deposit the retainer into my trust account,” Munro said in a Dec. 8 email, a month before his suspension.

When Opic told him she couldn’t stomach sending that much, he settled for $25,000.

“That’s more money than I made last year. I think I made $18,000 last year. Because I was still looking for work,” said Opic. “I am a medical secretary. I wish I would have gone into law.”

Munro even pretended he was still working, after being suspended in mid-January.

“I will be in touch in the course of the next two or three weeks,” Munro wrote to Opic on Feb. 11. The email was signed “Michael Munro, Lawyer.”
Opic said he did no work on her case. She found out about his suspension in April, when his phone was disconnected. She called the law society next.

“I started crying, and I said what about my money, what about my case?” said Opic. “[She was told] I am sorry, we can’t help you here. You will have to hire another lawyer.”

Regulators don't proactively inform clients directly, even after lawyers are suspended, beyond the original complainants. Instead, that information is posted on law society websites.

The law society makes no apologies for not warning Opic about the imminent suspension when she called in December. It told Go Public its investigations have to reach a “critical point” of evidence-gathering first.

“Until then, public disclosure of the investigation is not in keeping with common law principles that mere allegations are not sufficient to conclude there is guilt,” said a statement from the Law Society of Upper Canada.

Munro stands accused of failing to work on cases, lying to one client and failing to account for $37,000 of that client’s fees. He didn’t show up for recent law society proceedings on his case.

Hire another lawyer

Opic said he did no work on her case. She found out about his suspension in April, when his phone was disconnected. She called the law society next.

“I started crying, and I said what about my money, what about my case?” said Opic. “[She was told] I am sorry, we can’t help you here. You will have to hire another lawyer.”

Regulators don't proactively inform clients directly, even after lawyers are suspended, beyond the original complainants. Instead, that information is posted on law society websites.

The law society makes no apologies for not warning Opic about the imminent suspension when she called in December. It told Go Public its investigations have to reach a “critical point” of evidence-gathering first.

“Until then, public disclosure of the investigation is not in keeping with common law principles that mere allegations are not sufficient to conclude there is guilt,” said a statement from the Law Society of Upper Canada.

Munro stands accused of failing to work on cases, lying to one client and failing to account for $37,000 of that client’s fees. He didn’t show up for recent law society proceedings on his case.

Law society knew plenty

Other former clients told Go Public Munro simply disappeared. Brent Jesperson paid him $60,000 in 2010 to handle a suit against a doctor.

“Michael stopped all communication suddenly [in September 2013]. I called the law society about my concerns,” said Jesperson, who lost touch with Munro for good in December.

Angelika Opic, right, seen with her mother hired Toronto lawyer Michael Munro to contest her mother's will. (Angelika Opic)

“No mechanism seems to exist to warn prospective clients that complaints or concerns are before the law society. New potential clients could not know their retainers were at risk.”

Gilbert Roy paid Munro $4,000 last year to file a suit against the same doctor.

“I was waiting for him to file the statement of claim. He never did,” said Roy.

“I trusted two people and I got screwed twice. I trusted the doctor and then I trusted him. But it seems like nobody cares.”

Several clients, including Opic, have applied to the law society’s compensation fund. It won’t say how much — if anything — they could get back.

“We cannot speculate on the likelihood or amount of compensation to claimants,” said the law society statement.
Questionable recommendation
Meanwhile, in Winnipeg, Forsythe said she feels as if the legal community conspired against her.

The lawyer Gorlick was recommended to her in 2012 by former law society bencher Jon van der Krabben.

“I thought he had my back. I thought he was protecting me and I asked for his advice,” said Forsythe.

Van der Krabben failed to tell her he chaired a hearing the year before, where Gorlick pleaded guilty to professional misconduct, for failing to work and communicate on a client’s case over several years.

“This really added insult to injury in my situation,” said Forsythe.

She gave Gorlick’s firm, Monk Goodwin, $5,000 to file a lawsuit over a mouse infestation in a house she bought. Gorlick never did file her claim. Emails show he made several excuses.

During that time, he was again under investigation, for failing to communicate with another client, as well as a serious charge of misappropriating a client’s fees.

'He made a mistake'

Van der Krabben told Go Public that when he recommended Gorlick he didn’t think his previous misconduct was of “significant concern.”

Former law society bencher Jon Van der Krabben recommended Winnipeg lawyer Barry Gorlick after he chaired a hearing where Gorlick pleaded guilty to professional misconduct. (Canadian Centre for Professional Legal Education)

“He made a mistake and paid for it. To follow your logic, it would be imprudent to enter into a motor vehicle if someone who had previously been convicted of speeding was the driver,” van der Krabben said.

Forsythe said Gorlick’s firm also didn’t tell her anything was amiss, until he was suspended this year.

“Not one of them — not the law firm, not the law partners — ever recommended that I look somewhere else or that this guy may not even be able to finish,” said Forsythe.

She has hired another lawyer to restart her case, which she said was hurt by the delay. She had to push Gorlick’s firm for months to get a $3,000 refund.

Gorlick refused to talk about any of this, citing client confidentiality. He faces a hearing on the charges against him in November. His former firm told Go Public the “matter is closed.”

More transparency promised

The Federation of Law Societies of Canada is promising easier access to lawyer discipline records when reforms are brought in next year.

“We have developed a strong commitment across the country to make our discipline processes much more public, open and clear in terms of what we are doing,” said Darrel Pink, a Nova Scotia lawyer on the national discipline standards committee.

However, serious complaints and investigations will still be kept under wraps until a lawyer is charged or suspended pending charges.

“We will not publish information about complaints that are not prosecuted,” said Pink. “None of us, I don’t think anybody, would want to hold someone accountable for something that was ultimately dismissed.”

Federation statistics show there were more than 10,000 complaints filed against Canadian lawyers in 2012. That same year, 60 were suspended and 42 disbarred.

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