Harry Kopyto is back before the Law Society Hearing Panel next Thursday May 16, 2013 at 9:30 a.m. in the Museum Room, Osgoode Hall. Your presence will let the panel know that Harry is not alone in his battle for affordable justice. Support him. Be there.
What was behind Blight’s descent into manic hostility when she reigned over Harry Kopyto’s application to be grandparented as a paralegal on April 29th and 30, 2013? A number of reasons come to mind.
Blight Has Never Met Anyone Like Harry
Blight’s agreement to chair the Panel judging Harry’s character was conditional. She did not jump into the hopper without first looking. Initially, she only agreed to rule on a constitutional challenge to the Law Society’s takeover of paralegals that was brought by Harry. She cased the joint and figured she could tame the tiger. She saw the benefits to her reputation and professional future. But, not really knowing Harry, she didn’t see the pitfalls.
Blight is famed for her case-management skills. That’s why Big Law lured her away for about 3 days a month from her classy digs in the Borden-Ladner-Gervais mega-law firm, where she gives strategic advice to bosses and public sector bureaucrats, to nail Kopyto’s professional ass. But you know what they say about the best-laid plans. She now must be blushing like a flashing red light. Nobody’s keeping count but the number of hearing days, starting in 2009, about 80 days under Blight’s aegis, is pushing 100. And there are 12 more outstanding through to mid-October. Not exactly something to add to your case-management résumé. Whatever else, the process may have already squelched her ambitions.
Blight has a future in law. A few years ago, she transitioned from a small practice to a firm with international dimensions. She is shrewd and crafty. Her wily skills are used to put out fires. In Harry’s case, she appears to be consumed by one.
Blight has pressures that have caused deep fissures in her stamina. When she took the job, there were expectations to meet. There were promises to keep. Now, they all lie shattered at her feet.
There is the case itself. Blight has never met anyone quite like Harry before. He went into law to change the world. He stayed in law to change the world. And you know what? He has made important changes in the world. Harry does not think or act like a traditional lawyer; in some ways, exactly the opposite. He identifies with his clients. He eschews courtroom games. He hides nothing. He shares his innermost thoughts. He pulls no punches. He is non-linear. He defends his conduct more than he defends his future career. His approach to the good character hearing has taken Blight, who is more sly than wise, places where she has never been before and has no desire to be. Her turmoil is tangible. The two live in different universes. She lives within a world of “judicial facts,” a favourite term of hers. Harry lives in a world of “social facts,” a favourite term of his. Harry’s reality impinges on her phantasms. Her discomfort has reached a level where it affects not only her judgment but also her mood and attitude. That was apparent on April 29th and 30th.
Blight is No Rock Star
Blight is weary. Her defences are up. She enters the arena of combat too often for a judge, impartial or otherwise. While she is a strategic thinker, it’s always within narrow limits. She is increasingly transparent. Her thinking is completely elitist, framed by a linear pragmatism which starts and ends with what those who surround her–Big Law and Big Business—think. Her hacking away at Harry’s testimony and her protection of the Society’s interests show her undisguised bias which she is undoubtedly oblivious to. Yet it is brazenly there. Who does not see, for example, that her attacks on Harry as “ungovernable,” spurned on by prosecutor Heakes to whom she often sounds like an echo, are designed to buttress the panel’s hostility to Harry? Or that her inexcusable delay in awarding costs against Harry for bringing several losing motions (actually, the motions raised novel issues of law which should nullify a costs award against him) is designed to avoid revealing her antagonism to Harry and her loyalty to her minders?
Blight’s reputation has suffered publicly. Definitely, she will not emerge from the hearings as a rock star. There are close to 35,000 hits on the Harry Kopyto Defence Committee Blog—from around the world. Public discussions of the LSUC hearings on the Web can be found from as far away as British Columbia and the United States. For the hundreds of Harry’s supporters attending the hearings over the years, Blight’s record of harassing Harry is there for all to see. She knows it. She resents it. She can’t do anything about it.
Prosecutor Susan Heakes knows well Blight’s mindset. She uses every occasion to attack the Harry Kopyto Defence Committee Blog when addressing the Blight Panel. Heakes may know something about Blight’s reaction to all the attention that Heakes is not sharing with Harry.
Blight Winces at Attiah’s Name
Much of Harry’s evidence does not fit into a neat little package pointing to poor moral character. Blight’s capacity to see and hear only what fits into her preconceived judgment is being sorely tested. The publicly acknowledged highlights of Harry’s career will be difficult to condemn morally even though he exceeds the limits of his scope of allowable practice as a paralegal. Blight winced, for example, when told that Harry will call Mohammed Attiah as a witness. A nuclear engineer, Attiah was fired after September 11, 2001 from Atomic Energy Canada Ltd. He was falsely and carelessly labeled to be a security risk by the RCMP. Kopyto was able to get him rehired in only two months in a high profile case that hit the front pages across the country and was the first item on CBC and CTV national television newscasts. Kopyto has filed only about two hundred exhibits out of a thousand newspaper articles about his precedent-setting cases over the years. Even so, Blight needs to determine how to fit this evidence of Harry’s illustrious history of courtroom victories for justice into her judgment condemning him.
Blight’s frustration caused her to slip from grace back into her bullying persona on April 29th and 30th. Her patience, the key qualification needed to be a judge, has been drained. She now acts like a searchlight spanning Harry’s evidence for signs of faults to weave together into a noose around his professional neck.
Blight’s narrow vision of her job is reflected in her previous decisions in LSUC discipline proceedings. She has unashamedly championed the financial and related interests of lawyers. A creative thinker, she is not. She shows impatience with the presentation of evidence of Harry’s lifelong devotion to be the voice for the poor and powerless by speaking truth to Big Law whose interests she unswervingly embraces. (“Its relevance hangs by a thread, Mr. Kopyto,” is one of her most oft-repeated phrases describing Harry’s testimony). With Blight stick-handling the puck, the two Law Society’s prosecutors have been reduced to a Greek chorus as she has appropriated their role. The hearings have morphed into what is clearly now a clash of her loyalty to Big Law and Harry’s loyalty to his clients. “You’ve made up your mind,” Harry accused her at the height of her rampage against him on April 30th. It was not Harry at his most subtle.
Heakes is Playing on Home Ice
Kopyto’s opposition to the structures that enforce the class nature of the legal system is Blight’s real target. The two other panelists are totally dependent on her to rule on all questions of law. Her most recent rulings on legal issues have been made in a cursory manner with little or no justification, one even scribbled a few minutes prior to her pronouncement and clearly without any serious input or consultation from her fellow panelists.
The rules of engagement have become more flexible during the two April hearing days following Harry’s bold admission, made without reservation on a recent hearing day, that he was the Law Society’s “worst nightmare.” Senior discipline counsel Susan Heakes, as vitriolic as she is conformist, is allowed to pop up from her seat without restraint repeatedly to denounce Harry’s conduct or to fire yet another salvo against Harry’s way of presenting his evidence—often before he finishes his sentence. Sometimes, she punctuates her attacks on Harry with running comments that are irrelevant to his testimony to bolster the panel’s hostility to him. After all, Heakes is playing on home ice. When Harry raises issues about the conflict of interest of a profession act in its own financial interest while appointing a panel of judges who are required to act in the public interest, Heakes accuses Harry of making a personal attack on the panelists. Heakes’ favourite phrase: “Let the record show that once again Mr. Kopyto is arguing with the Chair” is her sanctimonious obeisance to the vanity of the panel’s authority. They love to jump on Harry. The fuss is designed to undermine him, to line up any wavering panelist behind Blight, to reinforce a symbiotic relationship between the panel and the prosecution as they pass the puck between each other.
Heakes’ main qualification for the job is her obsequious loyalty to the LSUC. She plays a critical role in conveying messages to the panel from her LSUC mandarins in the backroom where afternoon tea is taken at 4:00 p.m. sharp. She is predictable in her genuflection before the panel. She relishes her role as the panel’s handmaiden taking orders and reporting promptly on all administrative tasks the panel assigns to her as if she were their personal assistant. The body language and eye contact between Blight and Heakes, ostensibly masked and momentary, tells it all. They don’t need to talk to each other. Even a wink isn’t needed. Heakes says out loud what Blight thinks silently. Heakes passes easy verbal pucks to Blight who then decides which ones to allow to score a goal in her judicial net.
Clients Can’t Pay One Tenth of Your Fees, Ms. Blight
Blight’s history is one of an uber-patriot to the LSUC which she refers to as “the Society,” an affectionate shortening that denotes the enunciator as a member of the inner circle. The word “Society” spills out of Ms. Blight’s lips with a clear hint of veneration. It’s a little bit like wearing an old school tie to let everyone know that you have had a proper upbringing.
There is an understood sense of sanctimonious moral superiority in the discourse between the two. It is understood, so it need not be said, that Harry is not a member of the club, although he has never asked to be. But is this what we want? Do we want the gatekeepers to public legal institutions to act like concierges in a private club?
Harry’s theme during the two days of evidence is built on his prior testimony. He represents clients who cannot afford what he called “one tenth of the fees you charge, Ms. Blight” as she sat stone-faced. He promises to pursue an alternate career if the legal profession would act for his clients for affordable fees. He describes his practice as a fully integrated weapon for legal change providing access to justice to those that the legal profession treats as flotsam and jetsam. Harry accuses the LSUC of “a conspiracy of silence” for refusing to acknowledge that the majority of Canadians are excluded from affordable access to the civil courts.
Harry gives several examples of clients who can’t afford lawyers’ fees turning to him for help. The large number underlines the broad dimensions of the crisis. Harry’s unauthorized practice is the scorned offspring of the LSUC’s own breach of its obligation to provide affordable justice. To Harry, justice has no price. Harry’s witnesses will testify that they came to him because they had no choice. They are only the tip of the iceberg. And so, Harry’s admissions and the witnesses he will call will contradict Law Society accusations of his moral unworthiness. Rather, such evidence will establish the LSUC’s moral bankruptcy. It’s not that many of Harry’s clients are falling through the cracks. The fact is that they can’t even get on the floor.
Blight so far has failed to grasp Harry’s strategy fully. Rather than making her job easier, Harry’s discourse is adding a new level of complexity to his good character hearing. Every client of Harry’s who will testify will be a powerful example of his narrative. What matters is not what happens to Harry’s career. He has paid his dues. Ultimately, what matters is the outcome of the class war that discreetly plays out during Harry’s good character hearing. The single biggest crisis facing the judicial system is its unaffordability. Harry Kopyto stands before the dock of the LSUC’s good character panel. But his strategy is to uncover the powerful class interests that condemn the 99% to ongoing inequality within the justice system and to turn the proceedings into a condemnation of Big Law instead. Harry’s goal is to prevent the Blight panel from sweeping that issue, central to his practice of law and to his defence, under the rug.
LSUC Offers Harry a Deal
At one time, the LSUC offered to virtually fold up all their other “evidence” against him if he would simply admit his unauthorized practice. But now, he is doing it without a deal. Harry is giving them the prize for free. And every hearing day, he gives them more and more tidbits. Blight can’t believe it as she furiously writes down all the details. What’s up?
It’s taking Blight some time to try to understand Harry. He is not playing her game. She expressed surprise at the large number of clients he is helping in high court. This is because paralegals are forbidden by the Law Society to act there on behalf of clients. Yet Harry describes his involvement in their cases without compunction. This is precisely the opposite of what she expects from him. She expects Harry to act in his own interest as she perceives it, to protect himself, to camouflage his conduct. But, for Harry, it’s not about him. It’s not about protecting his career. It’s not about defending himself so he can continue to do law. He is ready to retire. It’s not about what he needs. It’s about what his clients need. What the public needs. And what an effective and respected judicial system needs. It’s about access to affordable justice. Hammering the point home, he recalls to the panel, prosecutors and audience the open condemnation by Supreme Court Justice Beverley McLaughlin that the legal system in Canada is failing to provide affordable justice.
The Judgment That Really Matters
Blight has petulantly accused Harry of not speaking to the panel but “for the record.” But the Harry we know is speaking to both. Harry wants the panel to address his issues—not hide from them. Blight’s comment falsely pictures Harry as dismissive of the panel. In fact, Harry lives very much in the present. There have always been those within the judicial system—when he was disbarred, for example—who opposed his professional execution. But Harry also speaks to the future in which he expresses boundless confidence that his vision of affordable justice will come to fruition.
Casting a true judgment on a person’s moral character is not part of a technical legal narrative. It is a judgment that everyone is qualified to make. Harry is back on May 16th and 23rd to complete his testimony. Harry is back on June 6th and June 19th to be cross-examined. Harry is back in August, September and October when witnesses will testify in his support. The judgment which will eventually flow from the pen of the Blight Panel is likely but not necessarily to be dipped in Harry’s professional blood.
But history too will give its judgment in the fullness of time. History’s judgment will be made on the entire cast of characters playing their roles in the courtroom stage in the Museum Room at Osgoode Hall. That judgment will be rooted in an ethical vision of justice. That vision will acknowledge that justice is a fundamental human right; that it is a right that should be accessible to all, rich and poor, in equal measure; that justice will no longer be a commodity to be bought and sold to the highest bidder. That judgment will recognize that access to justice is an inherent part of every human being’s birthright. That is the judgment that really matters.