There are many words in the English language to describe a reaction to an event that is unexpected. Surprise. Disorientation. Bewilderment. Shock. Trauma. Freakout. But none of these words come close to describing the look on Ms. Margot Blight’s face when Harry Kopyto proclaimed, “I am the Law Society’s worst nightmare!” during the last hearing date examining his moral character in his application to be grandparented as a paralegal by the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC).
No Inkling of What Was to Come
Harry’s unexpected proclamation was a channel changer. Until then, Ms. Blight and her two fellow panel members considered Kopyto to be engaged in a desperate, and perhaps manipulative, effort to save his professional skin. This was apparent from numerous interjections made throughout three years of hearings (four and a half counting two earlier panels who gave up the ghost).
Ms. Blight‘s image of Harry was shaped largely by perceptions culled from pre-conceived notions of how she expected him to act. Conflating his tactics with those of others who are often cast in a similar role, she probably expected Harry to seek to curry favour with his judges through declarations of self-reform and through insincere apologies. But that was not the Harry Kopyto that turned the tables on the panel during the hearing that took place at Osgoode Hall in downtown Toronto on March 27, 2013. They thought they had heard it all. But the look of shock on their faces revealed that they had no inkling of what was yet to come.
Understand this—you are dealing with the aristocracy of the legal establishment in their inner sanctum where self-interest reigns. Everything is opaque. Truth is elusive—if existent at all. Words are designed to mislead rather than to communicate. Obfuscation, not clarity, rules. Hidden meanings wear verbal masks. No one expects you to actually say what you think, let alone believe what you say. Kopyto’s words shattered this artfully constructed conceit. He boldly asserted that it was the Law Society that was immoral, not him. He attacked the self-important bureaucrats who appointed the Panel and direct its attention in the expectation that the panel would protect the lawyers’ monopoly over the provision of legal services which Harry seeks to break. He asserted that the legal system belonged to the public outside the intimidating concrete edifice of Osgoode Hall that exudes power and authority, and not to serve the economic interests of lawyers.
Don’t Do Their Dirty Work!
Breaking from his pattern of defining himself professionally by reviewing the public record of his decades-long legal achievements on behalf of the oppressed and dispossessed, Kopyto lashed out bitterly at the LSUC epigones of the rich and powerful whom he accused of destroying the Ontario Legal Aid Plan in 1998 and currently suffocating access to civil justice by making it unaffordable to the majority of Canadians. He attacked the wily foxes of the LSUC who stole the key to the chicken coop when they slashed the scope of practice of their competing paralegals in 2007 through the ironically named “Access to Justice Act”, which placed disenfranchised paralegal serfs under the control of the Law Society lords.
In a more direct exhortation, he urged the Panel, “Don’t do their dirty work!” referring to the decision of those he labeled nameless “Law Society bureaucrats” to refer all “unauthorized practice” allegations against him (and others facing similar reviews) to good character hearing panels instead of prosecuting them under Section 50 of the Law Society Act. As a result of the LSUC’s savvy manipulation, Kopyto has been denied the right to be tried for unauthorized practice by an independent judge of the Ontario Court of Justice—outside the chummy circle of Law Society sycophants. He has been denied the benefit of being judged under the publicly administered Provincial Offences Act instead of the unashamedly skewed rules imposed by the LSUC on his hearing.
Breaking every rule of subtle expression in the book, Kopyto told his stunned judges that his professional raison d’etre was defined by the LSUC’s stifling of affordable access to the judicial process. He testified that his unauthorized case work reflected an inversion of the LSUC’s own failure to make justice affordable. While he proclaimed that he was not proud of breaking a minor regulatory rule by engaging in unauthorized practice, at least he was serving a greater moral good by providing a means for the public to exercise a fundamental right that defines all human civilizations—equal access to a legal system to obtain justice.
Living in a Different Universe
The LSUC, on the other hand, is preventing access to a judicial system thereby violating a basic constitutional right “that make us human. If you don’t recognize the enormous failure of a judicial system that the majority of Canadians can’t afford to access,” he said, “then we are living in different universes. Equality before the law means nothing if you can’t access the law.” Such failure is a major moral crime, he told the three Panelists who were now scribbling down each of his words furiously, finally unable to avoid the critical issue that they would have to address in their final judgment. Kopyto spoke without notes. Kopyto spoke from his heart. Kopyto let it all hang out.
Harry then turned to counter some of the specific allegations made against him. The LSUC’s attempt to besmirch his character centred on his alleged “ungovernability” by representing, as a paralegal, clients who could not afford to be represented by lawyers. This exceeded his permissible scope of practice. He meticulously deconstructed three of the five or six examples used against him. Astonished beyond description by his accusatory and unrestrained defiance of their paymasters, the three panelists sat stone-faced as Kopyto relied on the LSUC’s own evidence used to level the charges against him to attack what he called “the poor moral character” of the Law Society itself.
Why They’re Wild About Harry
Harry started by asking why it was that so many members of the public came to him—a disbarred lawyer—to seek assistance. He quickly dispelled any notion that they were wild about Harry because he had unique skills or abilities that attracted them. The real reason was that they could not afford civil litigation lawyers’ fees, averaging over four hundred dollars an hour (hard to believe…). In one instance, Kopyto helped a client defend himself in an action with virtually no charge for his services. Kopyto’s assistance resulted in this client defending himself effectively to the point where the initiator of the lawsuit abandoned her lawsuit because she could no longer afford the high-priced Bay Street lawyer she had hired to overwhelm the defendant. (This was an ironic outcome which may be lost on the panel.) In another case, Harry’s client was discouraged from accepting Harry’s help by the opposing lawyer who also testified against Harry at the Law Society hearing. As a result, Harry’s client’s case was dismissed on a summary judgment motion precisely because the client failed to retain an expert witness that Harry was in the process of finding for him! In that case, it was the Law Society’s unauthorized practice rules that were responsible for blocking justice. In a third case, a lawyer opposing Kopyto’s client threatened to report another lawyer who had agreed to represent Harry’s client to the Law Society for “associating” with Harry–a big no-no in the Church of the Law Society, which arrogates to itself the right to excommunication! The threat worked. With his livelihood at stake, the lawyer hired to defend Kopyto’s client backed off on the day before a hearing, preventing the case from proceeding.
The point of Harry’s evidence in these cases was clear. The Law Society rules were being used to block justice! The Law Society’s efforts to isolate Kopyto underline its indifference to the needs of clients turning to Harry for help. They are a clear moral rebuke of the Law Society’s rigidity in enforcing its rules applied to preserve the lawyers’ monopoly over the provision of legal services. Harry’s clients are not even on their radar.
The Law Society, Not Harry, Was on Trial
Finally, Kopyto administered his coup de grace by exposing the Panel’s entanglement in the web of deceit spun by the LSUC meisters. Identifying two of the three panel members as being selected by lawyers who expect them to defend their interests, Kopyto countered the LSUC prosecutors’ theme that Harry was “politicizing” the Panel’s role. Kopyto rejected the naive idea that politics, economics and law existed in separate boxes splendidly isolated from each other. He pointed out that reality was “a lot messier” than that false concept would suggest. He challenged the Panel to be aware of the socio-political matrix establishing the parameters of their function as judges. Instead of being a disinterested party, the Law Society appeared twice before the legislative committee that drafted the law placing paralegals under its control. When the panel member appointed by the government to reflect the public interest, Baljit Sikand, asked Kopyto if the panel should simply ignore his unauthorized practice, Kopyto responded, “No, don’t ignore it, but also don’t just rubberstamp the LSUC’s charges. Ask yourself on each charge of unauthorized practice: Who benefited? Who lost? What was the motivation? What was the result? What alternatives existed? What regulations were violated? What basic rights were preserved?”
Finally, Kopyto challenged the panel to carry out its legal duty. He questioned Ms. Blight’s self-described role as Chair of a mere admissions committee upholding entry standards to a profession. “As the gatekeeper of who can be part of the Ontario legal system, you have a duty to act in the public interest. The legal system belongs to the public, not to lawyers. Your job is to rule on my moral character—on whether I have empathy, integrity, candour and courage,” Harry said, quoting the LSUC’s own case law. And shortly thereafter, Kopyto asked for an early adjournment to attend a personal event which the panel, heaving an only slightly camouflaged sigh of relief that the day was done, happily and quickly assented to.
On March 27, 2013, it was the Law Society, not Harry, who was on trial.
NOTE – Kopyto has been given Five Days to complete his personal evidence in the witness stand. Days 2 & 3 are coming up next Monday and Tuesday, the 29th and 30th of April, 2013 at the Museum Room, Osgoode Hall at 9:30 A.M.
Be There. Harry Needs Our Support.