Blight on a Rampage
Members of the public who attended the last hearing of Harry Kopyto’s paralegal grandparenting application were taken aback by a comment Law Society of Upper Canada Panel Chair, Margot Blight made late in the afternoon. She chose Harry Kopyto’s post-holocaust background as an example of evidence that she did not want repeated. Only Harry’s nuclear family survived the massacre of the Second World War. Kopyto had described, on the first day of his testimony, in order to explain the source of his passion for justice, that he was born in a Displaced Persons Camp in Germany in 1946 “with the taste of ashes in my mouth”. This precise phrase was repeated by Blight as an example of what she did want to hear about any further. That was an unfeeling comment made more acerbic for having been delivered in a mocking, exasperated tone. At best, her choice of this example was insensitive and inappropriate. But whatever it was that motivated this comment, it shows how Blight is losing her balance and, with it, her judgment. It is likely that she will lose her cool again as the hearings resume (same time, same place) this Friday.
Look at it from her own point of view. She was brought in from outside the Law Society’s ranks to expedite the good character hearing after two previous failed panels. First, she agreed to only sit on a motion that Harry had brought challenging the monopolistic takeover of the paralegal profession by their lawyer competitors thereby restricting affordable access to justice. Her ruling on that motion showed a savvy grasp of the dynamics inherent in such a hearing. She finessed Harry’s motion by avoiding the issue. (The panel is “not competent” to deal with its, she ruled.) She then confidently agreed to “seize” herself with the entire admissibility hearing on the merits. She appeared to relish the role of the slayer of the Kopyto dragon, perhaps seeing such an achievement as a stepping stone in her own personal career advancement.
The Gods Have Their Own Plans
But the gods that rule human affairs had other plans. We are now in the third year of hearings since Blight took over in January, 2011. There are seventy or more hearing dates under Blight’s aegis. (We stopped counting a long time ago.) And still, no end in sight… Kopyto cross-examines. Kopyto makes motions. Kopyto testifies. Kopyto makes submissions. Kopyto files dozens of exhibits. Kopyto kept the Law Society’s chief investigator on the stand for nine days making a bloody mess of Adrian Greenaway whom Harry thoroughly discredited. Kopyto seems to feel that he has the right to be heard. No one can say that he is shy about exercising it. But the presence of dozens of discerning eyes observing from the back of the hearing room and from outside the stifling walls of Fortress Osgoode tend to inhibit Ms. Blight and panel from denying Harry the right to be heard.
Blight’s poorly chosen example of what she had “heard enough about” reflects her frustration with the process. She was called in to solve the problem. Now she is mired in it. Oh yes, she is still on top of the bronco. At least one of her two fellow panelists is locked in an iron embrace with her. She has pronounced one-sided, hostile decisions on almost every one of Harry’s motions. She has kept the panel afloat atop a flood of over two hundred exhibits. But the confident, preppy, Margot Blight who enthusiastically assumed the reins of Harry’s grandparenting application hearings to work as a paralegal, is long gone. Gone, gone and gone…
The process has had an effect on her. She complains that she sees “no end in sight”. She asks Harry: “What about judicial economy?” when he insists on being heard. She repeats a mantra, although not with a great deal of patience, and often in a belligerent tone, admonishing Harry and his evidence. The mere fact that she feels compelled to repeat her admonitions over and over, underlines their ineffectuality as well as erodes her authority. Recognizing on a certain level that she has already disappointed her managers who did not anticipate a multi-year saga, she now edges towards combustibility and dismissiveness.
Blight on Another Planet
An example? Blight wrongly anticipates and dismisses Harry’s evidence about his role in defending a Canadian Auto Workers Union legal insurance plan from a Law Society attack before he can finish his sentence. She retreats when she realizes and implicitly admits her error in cutting him off. (After all, there are eyes watching and ears hearing.) Her retreat is camouflaged. Still, her increased combativeness is apparent. It has increased exponentially since she denied Harry’s motion for disclosure of his disbarment file which was in flat contradiction to earlier rulings by her. (More on that later.) Her fingernails seemed to have spent an inordinate amount of time in close proximity to her teeth during the afternoon of the February 21, 2013 hearing.
In full flight, huffing and puffing, Ms. Margot Blight instead deflated like a balloon on February 21, 2013. In the process, she revealed herself as an obsessive, case-management monger as well as a bully.
Anyone who accidentally wandered into Harry Kopyto’s hearing room on February 21, 2013 would have had to rub their eyes at least twice. They would have to wonder if they were on another planet. This is what they would have seen: three panel members judging Harry’s character, a Bay Street lawyer, charging perhaps $600 an hour on a good day, a wealthy, politically-connected businessman and a hostile paralegal with ambitions, sitting at the front of the hearing room, from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. (one hour off for good behaviour) inserting paper tabs into three binders full of 222 exhibits that Harry had provided to the panel in loose form. Go ahead, don’t believe it—but it did happen!
At the previous hearing, Blight ordered Harry to submit all his exhibits and organize them under subject heads. The game plan? To take the exhibits to read at home or office before the next hearing date so that there would not be any time “wasted” reading them during the hearing itself. How Blight’s eyes shone when she proudly announced after sorting the exhibits at 3:00 p.m. that she had “saved an hour of hearing time” each day (a wee touch of exaggeration) by making the binders a collective exhibit instead of having Harry submit his exhibits one by one)!
A Muscular and Pumped-up Margot Blight
But then, Ms. Blight really lost her cool. That was when the binders had all been assembled. That was when she made her mocking comment about Harry’s background in a furious back and forth with him. She came on like a rampaging elephant destroying everything in its clumsy path. She stopped him from finishing a sentence. She threatened to cut him off. She interrupted him no end. She falsely accused him of repetition. But Kopyto refused to knuckle under. He stood his ground. He used Blight’s own prior rulings to justify the evidence that she was trying to block. He protested her numerous interruptions and he spoke in a calm, deliberate manner. Blight, on the other hand, was left looking impetuous, bullying, officious, and someplace between exasperation and desperation.
Harry’s unexpected feistiness took the Panel by surprise. Panelist paralegal member Michelle Tamlin, in a loud and hostile voice that reverberated through the hearing room, told Ms. Blight to direct Harry to move on to another topic when he confronted Blight over her repeated objections to his role defending the Union’s insurance plan. Blight, however, knew better. She knew that she had to back off and let Harry present his new evidence. The appearance of listening to Harry is critical to her credibility as a judge.
What was the catalytic event that resulted in the new muscular and pumped-up Margot Blight emerging? There are likely several reasons. Certainly, Blight must have realized that her refusal to give Harry disclosure of his disbarment file the previous day was arbitrarily inconsistent with her admission of close to a dozen exhibits relating to the same topic on an earlier hearing day. Most of those exhibits related to the Law Society’s campaign of dirty tricks against Harry during the disbarment proceedings in 1989. This mistreatment of Harry had been brought to his attention when Law Society employees refused to lie and misrepresent instructions from the Law Society’s discipline department investigating Harry and his associate in the 1980’s. Eventually both discipline counsel involved in the disbarment proceedings at that time were ordered off Harry’s case and ended up resigning at the first opportune moment.
Like a Deer Caught in Headlights
This disbarment file disclosure was relevant to justify Harry’s apprehension of bias in his dealings with Adrian Greenaway, the now disgraced lead Law Society investigator of his good character (actually assigned to besmirch Harry’s character). The disbarment file would also have exposed that Harry’s disbarment was flawed in the absence of proof of any loss or deprival in respect to his Legal Aid billings. Blight must realize that her refusal to give Harry disclosure of the file stood in sharp contradiction to her previous admission of the other exhibits relating to the same matrix of facts. Like a deer caught in headlights piercing a dark night, she was exposed as inconsistent and biased. But how could she give Harry disclosure of the disbarment file without opening a can of worms in the eyes of her Law Society handlers?
So this is now the panel’s new agenda: to case-manage Harry to death. To harass him if he does not knuckle under. To interrupt him constantly. To attack him with unfounded accusations.
Blight has already defined the positions she will take in the Panel’s final decision. Has Harry been subject to abuse by the Law Society? “These are mere mistakes.” Was Harry’s investigator, Adrian Greenaway, biased? “You could have influenced him by co-operating with him.” Was Harry morally justified in helping clients who couldn’t afford lawyers to help them? “You broke the unauthorized practice rules and are therefore ungovernable.”
The Panel now acts as a posse out to rope an errant member of the paralegal herd, focusing on every perceived Law Society rule Harry allegedly breached. Yet this is not and never has been the panel’s ostensible role and legal duty, which is to assess whether Harry has “empathy, integrity, candour and courage”—the legal definition of good character.
There is only one thing that can restrain the Panel—their realization that they are being watched. That Blight’s conduct is being noted. That in the eyes of the public, she will be held accountable for her treatment of Harry Kopyto. This is why it has never been more important for Harry’s supporters to mobilize again. Attend the hearing scheduled for this Friday March 8, 2013 at 9:30 a.m. at Osgoode Hall’s Museum Room. Your presence can make a difference.