In a stunning and unexpected victory, the Law Society (LSUC) Panel scheduled to deal with Kopyto’s good character hearing collapsed on January 10, 2010. Throughout the hearing which lasted from 9:30 in the morning until almost 6:00 p.m., Kopyto argued forcefully that two of the three Panel members against him were under an apprehension of bias. The main target of his challenge was the Chair of the Panel, Judith Potter, who had a lengthy history of campaigning on behalf of Ontario Bar Association members who constituted the single person firms and other small legal firms that were faced with competition from paralegals directly until they swallowed their competitors. Ms. Potter campaigned to be elected a Bencher (Director) of the LSUC by calling for paralegals to be prohibited from practice in areas serviced by these small firms.
At the same time when she declared herself biased, Chair Judith Potter also gave the entire Panel’s opinion that another Panel member, Cathy Corsetti, the Chair of the Paralegal Standing Committee which administers the law Harry Kopyto is attacking, was not perceived to be biased. Potter’s decision was presented as the unanimous opinion of the entire Panel including herself. However, having concluded that she herself was biased, Potter should no longer have participated in making such a decision. Her decision to give Corsetti the green light at the same time as finding herself perceived to be biased tainted the entire decision to keep Corsetti on the Panel. It is an astonishing breach of the law. The full consequences of her action have yet to be assessed.
More than 40 supporters of Harry’s passed through or were present at the hearing room over the course of the lengthy day with some of them determinedly staying until the end. The presence of these witnesses was instrumental in making it difficult for the Panel to ignore Kopyto’s claim that he could not possibly get a fair hearing from persons who are central to the administration and promotion of the law permitting the takeover of paralegals that he is challenging.
The January 10, 2011 hearing marks the disintegration of the second Panel that has dealt with Kopyto’s good character issues. There have been four full days of hearings since Kopyto was called by the Law Society on June 15, 2009 to justify why he should be able to continue to work as a paralegal as he had done since 1989. His central point of attack from the start was against the amendments to the Law Society Act resulting from the Liberal Party-dominated Ontario legislature which passed the Access to Justice Act which came into force in 2007. These changes faced opposition from the NDP, from many members of the labour movement, from feminists and from anti-poverty groups.
Kopyto’s attack on the LSUC regulatory takeover of paralegals allowed by this law is based on the fact that the Law Society has violated the provision in the federal Competition Act against abuse of a group with a dominant position. He has argued that the effect of the law has been to allow lawyers to take over their competitors thereby driving the cost of legal services higher. Therefore, the law serves the financial interests of lawyers by sacrificing the public interest which the Law Society is mandated to pursue. The effect of the law, in Kopyto’s submissions, is inconsistent with the LSUC’s mandate to increase access to justice rather then to reduce it. He accused the LSUC of using its power to reduce the scope of permissible practice by paralegals to prevent them from performing simple legal work like change of name applications and powers of attorney let alone the more complicated matters that they have performed well for a period of over thirty years at affordable rates.
While the Law Society is seeking to pick up the pieces from the implosion of their most recent Panel to deal with Kopyto, it is useful to emphasize the importance of public scrutiny of Kopyto’s case. His blog, harrykopyto.ca, started last year, has received close to 7,000 hits. Interest and support for his case has come from as far away as the United States and British Columbia. Supporters who attended the January 10th hearing included many from regions outside of Toronto. The presence of the public restrained the Panel from manipulating its rules to exclude a consistent advocate for justice from the world of law. Having to carry on their deliberations in the presence of the full glare of the public inhibits the LSUC from riding roughshod over its opponents in the name of the public interest. Kopyto’s victory is a tribute to his supporters as much as it is to Kopyto’s intransigence in pursuit of fair access to legal support by the public.
We will keep posted on future developments including new hearing dates. The battle goes on.