The Lines Are Drawn

What do the following people have in common?

 

  • A sightless, unemployed, young black man who successfully sued a bank for discriminating against him.
  • A pharmacist who exhausted her life savings of $120,000 on lawyers’ fees and, unrepresented, conducted a week-long matrimonial trial which she won hands down. She had the help of a paralegal who charged her less than 2% of what she had previously spent in legal fees.
  • A Cuban immigrant with no income and unable to speak English sued by a plaintiff who hired a high-priced lawyer from the biggest law firm in Canada. He succeeded miraculously in blocking the plaintiff’s lawsuit against him.
  • A man who suffered a serious brain injury in a head-on car accident on a highway when he was ten years old. He finally shared his story in a trial against the doctor and hospital which did nothing to diagnose and treat him years earlier as they were legally bound to do.
  • An elderly, disabled man who needed a patient, committed advocate to defend his dignity against a hospital and long-term care facility that abused him and denied him his rights. He eventually won his case in the courts.
  • A disabled property manager who was fired when he revealed fraudulent activities by his superiors and then pursued a civil suit against them. He had help from a paralegal who did legal work over several years on the case for less than $1,000.
  • A young person charged with a criminal offence who was denied Legal Aid. He was represented by a paralegal for a twenty dollar bill.
  • Members of a Vietnamese family who sought, in various court cases, and never received to this day, a meaningful explanation for the death of their mother and wife while she was visiting the emergency department of a hospital for a medical complaint. They are still seeking an explanation from the hospital.
  • A nurse whose daughter was stillborn filed a complaint against a coroner for failing to carry out a mandated autopsy on the fetus which the hospital claimed had been done. Her complaint against the coroner gathered dust for five years until the Coroners’ Council which disciplines coroners was abolished. Her complaint was the only one outstanding at that time and was never adjudicated.
  • Representatives of 300 nurses, most of whom were members of minorities, needed an effective advocate to appear before the Ontario Labour Relations Board to fight against a trusteeship imposed upon their union local by a bureaucratic union leadership. The representative they chose exposed the union’s manipulation and deceit in undermining their democratically elected local executive.
  • A person wrongly convicted of assault could only afford $200 as legal fees to pay someone to do all his paperwork on an appeal of his wrongful conviction. The appeal was successful and he was completely exonerated.
  • An elderly woman in her eighties went to court sixty years after being jailed in Toronto under the Female Refuges Act in 1939 for marrying a Chinese man. She was completely exonerated, received financial compensation, an official apology from the Premier of Ontario and became a cause célèbre in the public sphere.
  • The father of a seven-year-old child was barred from helping his son dress or allowed to enter the dressing room after hockey games. The son was forced to change his clothes in public on a stairwell of the freezing hockey arena. His son won the lawsuit against the hockey association. He received an apology, compensation, and the policy barring parents from access to their children was dumped.
  • A young black man stopped two dozen times by cops while driving a flashy car without ever being convicted of anything. He faced down each cop that stopped him in a court case which allowed him to expose the harassment he suffered and defend his dignity.
  • A young man wrongly charged with various criminal offences who could not afford a $20,000 retainer to pay a lawyer he had asked to defend him. He was exonerated in court on all but one of the charges for which he received an absolute discharge. He was represented in multiple appearances by a paralegal who charged him less than 5% of the amount initially quoted as legal fees.
  • A mother of two children appeared in family court seeking representation by a paralegal. The judge tampered, in fourteen different places, with the official court transcript of the hearing during which he denied the mother the right to be represented by the paralegal. The judge was exposed for falsifying the transcript and was found guilty of judicial misconduct by the Ontario Judicial Council.

What do all these persons have in common? They were only some of the character witnesses who appeared personally to attest to Harry Kopyto’s good character during the last few months of 2013 and the first few months of 2014 before a three-person Law Society (LSUC) Hearing Panel chaired by establishment lawyer Margot Blight. They were all helped or represented by paralegal candidate Harry Kopyto who provided them with access to affordable justice.

 

No One Came Knocking on His Door

The Law Society charges that Harry has poor moral character because he engaged in unauthorized practice by helping many of these clients who testified about him. Harry breached a Law Society by-law by providing legal services only lawyers are allowed to perform. Therefore, Harry is ungovernable. He does not follow rules. So there, Kopyto! Begone!

The Law Society had also called witnesses, much earlier, as part of their case against Harry. About half a dozen lawyers testified that Harry was acting for self-represented litigants who opposed their own clients. The lawyers all complained to the Law Society that Harry was doing lawyer’s work. Bad, bad, bad, bad—very bad! Harry was breaching the price-fixing monopoly over legal services established by lawyers. They snitched on Harry (not that he ever did much to cloak his involvement) for their benefit and their clients’ benefit. The financial interests of the clients as well as their own financial interests were being compromised by Harry who offered his clients a fighting chance.

An interesting side note. Two of the six lawyers who appeared as witnesses didn’t blow the whistle on Harry right away because they didn’t even know that there was a rule against unauthorized practice. One waited almost nine years before reporting him to the Law Society police. Another did so only after he couldn’t blackmail Harry into selling Harry’s client out by forcing him to accept a settlement offer Harry’s client had rejected.

Another interesting side note. For twenty years, Harry has assisted and even appeared to represent clients in Superior Court where paralegals are verboten. Two Superior Court judges allowed Harry to be present in their courtrooms and advise his clients in blatant disregard of the Law Society rule. The Law Society never prosecuted Harry in the provincial courts under section 50 of the Law Society Act which prohibits unauthorized practice. In almost all of these cases, Harry’s clients could not afford lawyers’ fees. In some instances, Harry represented clients in the high court and was so identified in front page articles of newspapers such as the Ottawa Citizen and the Globe & Mail. No one ever knocked on Harry’s door from the Law Society to charge him. The Law Society, which had a dozen documented or admitted cases of unauthorized practice by Harry in its disclosure files has not once prosecuted Harry for providing his clients with affordable justice. They knew Harry’s clients couldn’t afford lawyers’ high-priced fees. They knew the public would never stand for finding someone guilty of helping a fellow human.

 

Which Side Are You on?

But they also know that Harry would have a fair chance to defend himself in a public trial in the Ontario Court of Justice where they could not choose his judges and had to play by neutral rules of procedure. Instead, the Law Society ignored unauthorized practice complaints against Harry from 1989 to 2007. Then, with the 2006 ‘Access to Justice ‘ Act providing them a new hammer to wield over Koptyo’s livelihood, the Law Society quickly turned to refer all these widely-known examples of unauthorized practice to the panel members selected to judge his admissibility to be grandparented as a paralegal (panel members whom they had selected and could largely count upon to tow the party line).

The Law Society already had its teeth kicked in decades earlier when they failed in their legal bid to exclude traffic ticket agents from representing clients in the provincial courts. Why risk giving Harry a fair hearing before an independent judge who they could not manipulate if they didn’t need to?

Harry doesn’t run a divorce mill or a real estate practice. His arena of battle is the courts. His cases involve the rights of tenants, minorities, working people, women, gays, disabled people and the poor. Exactly the opposite of those clients that Blight represents.

So there you have it—half a dozen lawyers protecting their turf. Over twenty clients of Harry’s that received affordable access to justice. Which side are you on?

 

The Firing Squad is Being Assembled

The Law Society didn’t get around to blocking Harry’s application to be grandparented as a paralegal until 2009. The hearing of the Law Society’s witnesses started in 2011. That was four years after By-law 4 under the Law Society Act was enacted. That By-law dramatically reduced the paralegal scope of practice. It was passed by the Ontario legislature against protests from women’s groups, paralegals, community groups, the labour movement and the NDP. By-law 4 was written by the legal department of the Law Society which represents lawyers. Not a word was changed. Not a comma was erased. The Ontario government rammed the By-law through the legislature as part of an omnibus Access to Justice Act at lightning speed. Then, when it came time to put the relevant regulations into place, the Federal body in charge of promoting competition and consumer choice in the marketplace —the Competition Bureau—publicly voiced concerns to the LSUC that unfounded quality of service arguments may be used to stifle competition in the market for legal services. Still, nothing was going to derail this train.

The By-law was buried deep in the Act which saw little or no legislative debate. (That’s called democracy, whether practiced by the Ontario Liberals or federal Tories.) The Law Society appeared three times before a legislative committee to plug the By-law. Virtually every paralegal who appeared before the committee made submissions against it. The By-law placed paralegals under the control of their competitors and denied them the right to vote in elections for their governing body in the Law Society. The Act blocked paralegals from performing a wide range of legal services that they had competently provided to the public over decades at a fraction of the fees charged by lawyers. The public lost. Chock one up for monopoly capitalism.

 

Not All Fun and Games—Kopyto is a Tiger

Back to the Law Society. It is now 2014. Harry is still calling his last few witnesses on April 17, 2014. Then, the final concluding submissions will be made. And then the firing squad will be assembled. Blood will flow.

While the end of the hearings are near, it has not been all fun and games for the Law Society. Kopyto is a tiger. First, the Society’s chief investigator and licensed paralegal, Adrian Greenaway, while being cross-examined on the stand by Harry over a nine-day period (believe us, you should not wish this on your worst enemy!), was completely disgraced. Harry forced him to admit to a shocked panel that an Ontario Court judge had once denounced Greenaway’s conduct as outrageous, immoral, disgusting, and offensive to the public conscience for salaciously invading the privacy of dozens and dozens of half-clad women during a police raid of a lesbian intimate social gathering in downtown Toronto in the early 2000s. This took place while Greenaway was a cop for the City of Toronto. (It seems the Law Society likes to recruit its bottom-feeders from moral cesspools.) Blight blocked Harry from asking Greenaway if he revealed this highlight of his previous career when he applied to be hired as a Law Society investigator, which he was required to reveal. The capi are good at protecting their foot soldiers. Anyway, we can guess what the answer would have been…

 

Phantasmagoria of Contortions

And then, the Panel Chair—Blight, herself—in the most recent chapter of this never-ending saga, found herself caught up in a whirlwind of conflict of interest and bias when Harry revealed that a new client of his, Michael Giftopoulos, had volunteered to be a witness at Harry’s good character hearing. By pure coincidence (or was it the will of the Fates?), Blight was involved in a vicious tooth-and-nail fight against Mike in a human rights complaint he filed against his employer, represented by Blight. Blight immediately resigned from Mike’s case. However, after checking her bottom line, she kept her client’s file within her firm. She even admitted that she continued to have a financial interest in the case against Harry’s witness despite the decision she made refusing to resign from the panel judging Harry.   Blight declined to specify the nature of her “financial interest” when challenged by Harry—that was “privileged” information.

In rebutting Harry’s motion to have her recused, which Blight could not avoid admitting was a “serious” motion, Blight ruled herself unbiased. She refused to quit the panel notwithstanding her personal involvement in acting for her client against Harry’s witness. She completely ignored the fact that access to her own client’s file gave her private information about Mike and the case that Harry was helping him with. Try to imagine the phantasmagoria of Blight contorting in twists and turns of pretended neutrality as she judged Mike’s testimony about how effectively Harry helped him in his fight against Blight herself and her client. The most outrageous painter could not draw a picture as surreal as the one that emerged on March 4th as Mike testified at the hearing room in Osgoode Hall before Panel Judge Blight who was, a few months earlier, the lawyer acting against him in the very same case that he was testifying about. Pinch yourself—is this real?

Equally surreal, perhaps, is the thinking process of the Blight Panel. This panel of uberloyal sycophants has not deviated from Blight’s party line over years of adjudication. Stalin would approve. They always circled their wagons when the arrows started flying. Every hearing day, the two other panel members breach their statutory obligation to exercise their own personal independent judgment. Blight rarely consults them even on critical procedural rulings.

To this panel, Harry’s bad character is defined by his provision of legal services to clients that only lawyers are mandated to perform. Okay, we get it. There is a by-law, but it is made against the public interest by lawyers to protect their high fees and exclude affordable competitors. Harry’s clients can’t afford $450 an hour, the average fee of a litigation lawyer in Ontario. So who helps them? Will Blight—who is in the $600-plus an hour range—help them get affordable justice? Will the Law Society resuscitate the Legal Aid Plan that it intentionally drove into bankruptcy by starving it of funds during the Mike Harris era in Ontario in the 1990s? Where are all the authorized lawyers waiting to represent Harry’s clients for lunch money? Where are they, Ms. Blight? Where are they?

The unattainable cost of justice is the elephant in the room that lawyers can’t or won’t see. The Law Society, statutorily bound to provide affordable justice, in reality treats the public like chopped liver. Legal access has been commodified. Only the rich can afford it. Justice has a price tag. Journalistic and academic reports echo repeatedly the same theme. The state of access to justice in Canada is “abysmal” according to the Canadian Bar Association which pronounced last year that “inaccessible justice costs us all, but visits its harshest consequences on the poorest people in our communities”. Indeed Supreme Court Chief Justice McLaughlin has time and again lamented the barriers facing the public in accessing justice under the current system – going so far as to proclaim “There is no justice without access to justice”.

 

Surrounded by Ravenous Sharks

Think of a client unfairly charged in the criminal justice system but unable to afford a lawyer to defend him and denied Legal Aid because he is not “likely” to go to jail. (You wanna bet?) Think of being sued and losing your home, your job, your possessions when you have a strong defence but can’t afford a lawyer to articulate it and navigate the maze. What do you offer these members of the public other then sweet words of sympathy (or bitter tears of hypocrisy), Ms. Blight? Or do we just pretend they are not there?

Let’s say a person is drowning and cries out for help as a swift and strong current of water sweeps him further away from the shore. Of course, it would be best to have a trained lifeguard with a boat and equipment rescue him.   But let’s say there is no lifeguard. Let’s say a strong swimmer walks by and sees what is happening. He realizes that he might save the drowning person. Would we condemn him morally for assuming the role of a lifeguard by wading into the water and trying to rescue the victim?

There are a great many clients Harry has helped since 1989 in Superior Court cases who couldn’t afford “authorized” lawyers. There were no lifeguards in sight. There was only Harry. Most of them couldn’t afford to pay one-tenth of Blight’s hourly rate. Each of them was drowning in a sea of legalese. Each of them was surrounded by a pod of ravenous professional sharks.

Knowledge is power. Harry has a law degree. He was trained by the people now out to destroy him professionally. He has empowered his clients as best as he could. Should we not raise our voices in protest against the bizarre condemnation of Harry Kopyto’s moral character for acting in solidarity with victims of a class justice system?

Show your support for Harry. Thursday April 17th at 9:30 a.m., the last date he will be calling evidence in the Museum Room at Osgoode Hall in downtown Toronto. Their turf. Our cause. Be there. Show them which side you’re on.

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