The puppet show in the production of the Law Society versus Harry Kopyto hit a high dramatic note on May 16, 2013. The three actors playing the role of the panel judging Harry announced that the culprit would have to pay dearly for his insolence. And what, dear reader, you ask was his crime? Why, bringing several dismissed motions during earlier scenes in the still continuing drama. And what, dear reader, you ask was his punishment? Why, having to pay $38,527.07 in legal costs. Be warned! There is a steep price to pay for questioning authority.
Lawyer’s Hand Pulls The Strings
Many in the audience who witnessed this over-the-top attack on Harry were left scratching their heads. First, you have to get your head around the fact that somebody should be severely financially punished for trying to defend their character so that they can continue working at a profession they have practiced for 24 years. Next, you have to follow the money trail. Who appointed the panel that punished Harry? Lawyers. Who are the people who charged Harry? Lawyers. Who does the money go to that Harry was ordered to pay? Lawyers. Hold on a minute—isn’t that what we call a conflict of interest? How fair is it for the people who charged you, who picked your judge and who hired your prosecutors to share your fine? Are they not all acting in their own self-interest?
The answer to these questions contains an explosive truth; it is one that the actors in the drama that is played out in Harry’s good character hearing in the Law Society labyrinth in Osgoode Hall are oblivious to (or so they pretend…) They strut about with their noses high in a cloud of sanctimonious righteousness. Yet they are blind to the searing reality of their own roles as puppets whose strings are pulled by one hand.
Lawyer’s Hand Writes the Script
If you part the curtain separating the backstage from the front stage, you will notice that this controlling hand has an additional function—it also writes the script that the marionettes abide by. And one of those rules says that if the actor playing the role of a candidate for a paralegal licence loses a motion, he is penalized with having to pay costs. But what if the Law Society brings a motion that it loses? Doesn’t it have to pay costs too? Shouldn’t both parties be treated equally? Well…not so much in this twisted plot. It seems that the Law Society’s commitment to fairness ends where its self-interest begins.
The script written by the lawyer’s hand says that the Law Society holds all the aces. It only pays costs where its actions are “unwarranted”. This vague term means whatever the panel wants it to mean. In other words, you lose—you pay. They lose—they don’t pay. Welcome to the Law Society’s wonderful world of la-la land—self-important guardians of moral purity lost in a forest of judicial facts.
Harry knew that a fine was inevitable. He chose not to make submissions on costs. He did not want to sanctify a process that was blatantly unfair. Who wants to play cards when the house brings a stacked deck to the table and plays the game according to rules that give it an unfair advantage (of course, “in the public interest”)?
Costs Award Foreshadows Dénouement
The panel was reluctant to impose costs before the show trial ended and show their hand in order to maintain an illusion of neutrality. They preferred to play coy. But Harry forced their hand. He insisted on exposing their bias. While he did protest the unequal treatment in the costs rules, the panels’ response was “We’re bound to apply the rules as they stand.” So they ordered him to pay almost the full amount claimed by the LSUC prosecutors. The costs award was a likely foreshadowing of the final dénouement of this staged production.
The costs award was read into the record by supporting cast member Michelle Tamlin in a triumphant tone. The ruling was her first delivery of audible lines. It gave visible emphasis to the now patently obvious axis she has formed with Chair Margot Blight. They no longer cup their mouths as they chat each other up while Harry testifies. Blight too, having been forced to show her colours, with the costs order she penned, could scarcely suppress the enthusiasm at striking a blow against Harry. After all, he had brought a major motion for which he was fined almost $10,000 of the full costs order for accusing her of being in a conflict of interest. It was the panel’s first opportunity to make Harry pay for his insolence. Indeed, in a scene played out a recent date, Blight even taunted Harry to bring a formal motion to ask the panel to recuse itself for bias. Of course, she would decide.
Prima Donna Margot Wears Mask
The drama playing in the Law Society’s puppet theatre is now entering a crucial turning point. It was Harry’s second-last day on the stand. The subplots have coalesced, more or less. The characterization of the main actors is now clearly defined. Of course, there is Harry, typecast as the villain of the piece whose moral character is being judged to determine if he should be allowed to continue to work as a paralegal. Harry is portrayed by the Law Society as ungovernable, defiant, incorrigible and disobedient. In a word, an uncontrollable breaker of rules, especially the one that matters most: thou shall not engage in unauthorized practice of law, (stealing clients from lawyers or making it hard for lawyers to win against clients defended by Harry) even if your whole practice is designed to help litigants who cannot afford lawyers’ fees.
Then there is Margot Blight, Chair of the three-person panel judging Harry whose name is featured at the top of the marquee. Ever the prima donna, she wears a mask of disinterest and fairness which occasionally slips when she loses control. Yet behind her façade, there is an authoritarian and supercilious actor whose venomous bias against the character Harry portrays breaks through with stark sharpness. In a supporting role is panel member paralegal Michelle Tamlin, star-crossed and still taken with her selection to join the cast, whose role as her handmaiden has been carefully cultivated by Blight. As well, there is panel member Baljit Sikand, a politically favoured government appointee who professes diplomatic fairness but may be hemmed in by those who write the script to play a role that will not alienate others in the reparatory cast.
And, of course, there is the team of Susan Heakes and Katherine Anne Dionne, the former, a guardian of the faith out to slay the evil dragon, whose knowing glances exchanged furtively with the panel chair are all the handwork needed by the puppet master to solidify their alliance. Her character is delineated by lines that mark her as vicious and loyal in equal degrees. She probably was featured as a benevolent and caring person in another production. But if you wear a mask long enough, your face grows into it. Katherine Anne Dionne, an understudy, fills in for Ms. Heakes with a studied enthusiasm that leaves her strangely both panicked and wordless at times.
Money Has No Conscience
The April 16, 2013 production showed all the characters fully fleshed with few, if any, subtleties or nuances left to shade in. While the cost award was written into the script to emphasize the panel’s unified opposition to him, Harry Kopyto announced a scene change that struck at the heart of the puppet handlers triumphalist narrative. “Money has no conscience!” he announced. As if to clear any doubt as to the meaning of this declaration, he quoted Dante’s famous dicta, that the darkest corners of hell are reserved for those who remain neutral at a time of moral crisis. And then Harry continued to read his lines in a soliloquy that drew a picture of his practice as an integrated weapon for legal and social change. With a shower of potshots fired at him intermittently by Blight and Heakes, he continued undeterred.
The production is meant to draw a picture of Harry’s fight for justice. It is interesting to both watch and listen to. Blight calls it repetitive and rambling. Her linear and formalist pragmatic ear, however, prevents her from appreciating the complexity of Harry’s testimony. Harry outlines his practice the way an artist draws a collage. He describes specific cases that he has fought on behalf of a variety of clients—minorities, the poor, women, young people, working people, disabled people, tenants, prisoners, gays and others on the margins—and draws them all into the vortex of his law practice. His practice reflects his personal moral code—to better humanity and the collective interest of all through affordable access to justice.
Two Worlds Collide as Theatre Goes Dark
Kopyto disturbs the self-satisfied equanimity of the platoon of puppets surrounding Harry with real world facts from a just released 18-month study by Julie MacFarlane, a professor at the University of Windsor Law School. Seventy percent of 283 randomly selected litigants in the civil court system were self-represented. Fifty-three percent could no longer afford lawyers they had initially hired. Professor MacFarlane is quoted: “I was really horrified…by the social, emotional and psychological consequences of this on many people.” The panel hears, but does the panel listen?
In a real sense, the character Harry portrays, with all his warts and faults, casts a giant shadow that occludes the possessive individualism of the LSUC’s repertory theatre. He shines the light of reality into the dark corners of the judicial elite which feast on judicial conceits, and cynically projects its own morality of self-interest on the judicial system and the legal and paralegal profession.
Two worlds collide when Harry finished his presentation on April 16th as the theatre goes dark until the next curtain call on Thursday June 6th, when Susan Heakes will cross-examine Harry on his evidence.