Harry Kopyto is seething with angry determination. He now escalates his struggle for affordable justice to the next stage. That means asking a five member Appeal Panel of the Law Society to overturn the outrageous decision of the Hearing Panel made by Chair Margot Blight on February 3, 2015 declaring him to be “ungovernable”.
The foundation for the decision to remove Harry’s paralegal status was the unauthorized legal access Harry gave clients who couldn’t afford lawyers in the high courts. That was the central reason given by Blight and her two spear carriers for dissing him in a decision that interred his career as a legal advocate in a zinc coffin after 41 years of trying to make the justice system live up to its pretensions.
The decision came down six months and 23 days after Kopyto blasted the Law Society on July 9th and 10th last year in his final hurrah. He accused the Law Society—a well-connected nub of power and politics—of creating a price-fixing monopoly with its takeover of more affordable paralegals while drastically reducing or eliminating their scope of practice in areas where they competed with lawyers such as family law, real estate, wills, criminal law and negligence cases. It took four years for the charade of injustice by the Hearing Panel to wind its way through about 100 hearing days before the show finally went dark. Add another two years for hearings before two prior hearing panels who imploded under Kopyto’s hammer blows including one where the Panel chair admitted a perception of bias.
Pyrrhic Victory For the Haute Monde
The negative decision was a Pyrrhic victory for the Law Society’s haute monde. Shock and awe, it wasn’t. Gone was the triumphalist tone of Blight’s constant dismissive admonitions against Harry. The reasoning was rote, repetitive boiler-plate and insipid. A dozen factual “errors” spoke to Blight’s excessive weariness with the long stretch to review her notes. But these were not mere misstatements attributed to scant recollection of multi-year old evidence. In their majority, these errors were seminal exaggerations, distortions and outright misrepresentations of the tendered evidence blatantly skewed to fit the decision’s thesis.
Were these “errors” committed in a conniving manner or unwittingly? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter: a faded memory could readily have provided a canvas for Margot Blight to paint her imagined recollection. Remember that she had been recruited to an unexpected, burdensome schedule of seemingly endless hearings over many years that burned up hundreds of billable hours at $700 an hour and left her regretting her law firm’s decision to volunteer her time to defend the ramparts surrounding the Fortress Law Society from the likes of Kopyto. Hence, the final product was more of a warmed-up version of the prosecutors’ written submissions than what little she recalled from the testimony of over 30 witnesses.
The use of these submissions as crib notes erased forever the façade of pretended independence of the Panel. The summary content of the decision and its almost complete absence of detail or reference to evidence from witnesses can also be explained, at least in part, by the crack of the prosecutor’s whip. Only a few days before the Panel reported its position, on January 19, 2015, one of the two prosecutors wrote the Panel complaining about the delay in rendering the verdict since Harry, already presumed guilty, “is still practicing”. It was easier for Blight to take dictation as a secretary from the prosecutors than to write her own execution warrant. The Master spoke. Slavishly, Blight barked.
Law Society Denies Access to Justice
The Blight decision revealed Harry’s strategy for the hearings had worked. He had succeeded in defining the focus of the final decision—that he breached the practice restriction by doing lawyers’ work where affordable justice was otherwise unavailable to his clients. Translated into Blight’s formulaic rationale, Harry was putting his personal morals and conscience ahead of the so-called laws of the Law Society whenever he breached its unauthorized practice by-law.
Blight avoided like the plague addressing Harry’s key evidence—that the Law Society itself was in breach of its own fundamental statutory principle articulated in its statement of purpose to promote access to justice. Blight even admitted—how could she avoid ignoring completely the testimony of almost 25 of Harry’s clients?—that some of Harry’s clients received such access only owing to his efforts requiring that he circumvent the restrictive rule. However, by shamelessly reducing Harry’s position and conduct in providing affordable access, to his “personal whims” and conscience, Blight maligned Harry as an undisciplined advocate, erased the constitutional rights of his clients to access affordable justice and ignored the otherwise admitted benefit of his services to the public interest.
Blight did include sweet words about “much evidence of the dedication Mr. Kopyto has shown to the causes of his clients” and that “he has sought, throughout his career, to improve the lives of the disenfranchised and disadvantaged and has represented many clients without seeking any payment”. She acknowledges that he has “great empathy” for [his clients]. He is generous, he is appreciated by his clients and he is dedicated to them.” However, this serenade to Harry’s perceived virtues strikes a false note when the underlying rhythm of her opus comes to the fore.
Stripped to its essence, Blight was channeling the interests of the foxes who were given the key to the chicken coup when the Law Society won the coveted prize of assuming governance in 2006 of the previously unregulated paralegal profession despite the recommendations of three previous commissions and 30 years of uncertainty and division among lawyers. The Access to Justice Act, (ironic name for a law that gave the legal elite a stranglehold over who can be an advocate), enacted in that year, was opposed by labour, the NDP, women’s groups, paralegals and a vast array of other community and professional organizations. Its adoption was the culmination of a process that accelerated in the early 2000s as part of the tightening monopolization of other sectors of the world and Canadian economy. Kopyto’s practice of providing “unauthorized” representation to clients who couldn’t afford lawyers breached the price-fixing monopoly of the legal industry, especially the vulnerable small law firms organized in their special interest group, the Ontario Bar Association, who competed directly with their more affordable paralegal competitors—so Harry had to be professionally beheaded.
Ironically, it was the Law Society that showed itself to be “ungovernable” by promoting lawyers’ self-interest above judicial access, and it was Harry who was acting in a manner consistent with the Law Society’s fundamental edict to promote access to justice which could not be achieved for his clients without breaching a minor by-law.
Obedience above all—an “Aye, Aye, Captain” mentality, damn the context–is what the Law Society seeks from the Bar. Blight’s elevation of unthinking, Pavlovian adherence to rules like the practice restriction by-law, as the ultimate litmus test of professional moral purity also poses, inversely, the urgent need for affordable justice. This was an issue Blight had tried to deflect throughout the hearing but was finally forced to acknowledge when she agreed in the decision that “some” of Harry’s clients would have had no legal representation or access but for Harry’s conduct. This is an astonishing admission that, taken to its logical conclusion, makes the legitimacy of the Society’s takeover of paralegals by their competitor lawyers a critical ground for Harry’s appeal of the decision to the Appeal Division of the Law Society.
Public Support Key to Harry’s Survival
The hundreds of members of the public that attended the hearings were important in focusing the Panel’s attention on Harry’s agenda. On more than one occasion, Blight erupted into distemper when the public applauded his call for affordable access to justice. Harry’s supporters constituted an unavoidable physical and psychological presence which checked the venomous hostility of Blight who once, in a stupor of supreme confidence touched with hubris, called on him to challenge her for bias. (When Harry obliged, she regretted her invite). The watchful eyes and ears of the public put the Panel itself under constant scrutiny and judgment. The judges themselves were being judged.
Public support and presence were key in winning Harry the right to a capacious hearing room, 18 hearing days for his personal testimony, and occasional reprieves from the harassment tactics of the tag-team of Blight and Harry’s prosecutors, which, on one occasion was so egregious, that it drew an abject apology from Blight. This protection from the one-sided rules of procedure of the Law Society and their vicious enforcement allowed Harry to stand up to the bullying tactics that have crushed hundreds of others victimized for not fitting into a cookie cutter mold while insulating the real criminals in the legal profession from accountability.
Members of the public who attended the hearings carved out a shelter for Harry that provided succor from the visceral hate emanating from the Defenders of the Faith. They conferred with him every hearing day during lunch and breaks. They made suggestions, criticisms and evaluations of each day’s hearing. They provided moral and financial support. They testified for him. Without the respite they provided, Harry would not have survived six years of harassment and abuse while trapped in the wheels and gears of a well-oiled machine.
Nonetheless, and against all odds, the prosecution of Harry left the monopolistic and self-righteous epigones of virtue little to cheer as they tinkled their glasses full of bubbly from their renowned wine cellar in the bowels of Osgoode Hall. On a very practical level, Harry won the freedom to work as a paralegal from the time he applied to be grandparented in 2007 to 2015—the last “dead man walking” in the Law Society books. This slow traction even drew a frowning reference of disapproval in the five year report on the paralegal takeover which the Law Society was obliged to prepare for the Ontario government.
Harry also drew some support from the legal profession, consulting with civil rights lawyers Peter Rosenthal and the late Charlie Roach. The case received comments and coverage in legal circles, surprisingly in the United States and British Columbia, as well as occasional reports in the Law Times and Canadian Lawyer magazine. (A manipulative operator with guile more than a bright legal light, Blight did recite in her decision, with transparent delight, the absence of coverage of the hearings by the main media, neutered over decades from anything even faintly reminiscent of a critical journalistic stance.) The Harry Kopyto Defence Committee blog, often described as crisply written with sardonic wit, has so far attracted close to 60,000 hits from readers in 90 countries—that’s not a mistake—90 countries!
Evidence of 25 Witnesses Completely Ignored
Though not written thoughtfully with a feathered quill, Blight did avoid or ignore obvious pitfalls in her decision. Making absolutely no specific reference to the evidence of about 25 witnesses, mostly clients, who testified for Harry was an omission that screams for condemnation and drips with obvious bias. No whisper will you find in her magnum opus of Blight’s repeated attacks on Harry’s public statements excoriating the gross bias that characterized his treatment throughout the good character hearings lest he raise a Charter-based freedom of expression argument on appeal. The decision specifically abjures prior efforts during the hearing to condemn Harry for lack of remorse, now a discredited and largely abandoned measure of rehabilitation that offends the Charter-protected right of freedom of conscience. Even the admission that Harry’s work provided access to justice was forced on Blight to neutralize any suggestion that she improperly discounted the evidence of his clients like Mike Giftopolous, whom she described as a minor witness for reasons elaborated below. Nor did Blight even hint at the bulk of Harry’s personal evidence that, during the span of his career, he led the charge for women’s rights, gay rights, disabled persons’ rights, tenants’ rights, victims of police abuse, workers’ rights and defense of minorities, to mention only a few of the areas where Harry made new law. (Even the prosecution described Harry’s career as “illustrious”).
Especially absent was a reference to a major faux pas Blight committed when she referred one of Harry’s clients, who asked her a question at the end of his testimony before her about his bitterly fought Superior Court case, back to Harry for advice because “he knew better”—an act that rendered her an accomplice to the “crime” of unauthorized practice!
Blight, however, relied heavily on the evidence of one witness against Harry, a fired airline pilot, who complained not only against Harry but also against the Law Society (conveniently ignored in Blight’s mention). This witness, as Blight well knows, had complaints against multiple lawyers whom he had hired—his complaint against Harry was yet another misadventure owing to the client’s distressed state of mind.
Blight Embraces Discredited Investigator
The allegations used to attack Harry were distorted and one-sided, painting a caricature of his views. Blight conflated his breach of a Law Society rule with someone who is ungovernable and has disdain for all law. She characterized Harry’s criticism of blind rule-obedience at all times under all conditions and out of context as the ultimate measure of morality with the false accusation that Harry equalized the Law Society’s fetishism with rule-obedience to the conduct of Nazi soldiers.
To reinforce her ultimate conclusion—that Harry was ungovernable—and render her decision appeal-proof, Blight echoed the litany of crass, deliberately distorted, scurrilous, selective accusations that the Law Society’s prosecutors had drafted for her to recite, as she obligingly did, on wedge issues traditionally relied on when there are no good reasons to deny a licence.
Near the top of the list of accusations is the charge that Harry failed to meet and cooperate with Law Society investigator Adrian Greenaway. The same Greenaway whose credibility Harry tore to shreds on the stand. The same Greenaway who testified that Harry could be in breach of a Law Society order if he attended the wedding of a daughter of a lawyer who had been directed not to associate with Harry on legal matters—Oh, what the Church of Scientology would give to have such powers of excommunication! The same Greenaway who Blight dismissed as “only an investigator”. The same Greenaway whose opinions, Blight indicated, would not be relied on. And yet…and yet… she did exactly the opposite.
Greenaway was the Law Society’s investigator granted a paralegal license himself and put in charge of investigating Harry despite the fact that Greenaway disgraced himself in his earlier job as a cop. This is a man who engaged in “outrageous conduct that brought the administration of justice into disrepute”, and “offends the public conscience,” to quote a judge, for raiding a semi-nude lesbian event in which he engaged in what amounted to visual rape. It is astounding that such a man who testified that Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Rosa Parks could each be judged to be of bad character and be refused a licence by the Law Society, was put in charge of Harry’s case. No mention is made by Blight of the vital fact that Harry never refused to meet Greenaway—he simply wanted disclosure of the files to be discussed before the meeting. But then, Blight’s convenient memory, which she justified by saying she was only “human,” was limited only to recall evidence of her prefabricated opinions.
Evidence Exonerating Harry Not Allowed
Another classic case of double-think was reflected in Blight’s comments about Harry’s disbarment. She refused to allow Harry to call a witness to prove malicious conduct in his disbarment proceedings that resulted in a finding of abuse of process against the prosecution. She relied on the most shamelessly hostile and patently excessive personal attacks made against Harry by the late Ian Outerbridge, (a far-right lawyer famous for repeated attacks on medicare as a socialist plot), who volunteered to chair the 1989 Panel that recommended Harry’s disbarment. Outerbridge, a lawyer who also defended major polluters and corporate fraudsters both within the United States and Canada, with accusations of misuse of his trust account, needed the accolades that he would be awarded for disbarring Harry to deflect from his own scandalous million dollar plus controversial bankruptcy only weeks after delivering his professional coup de grace to Harry’s 15-year career as a lawyer The tight brotherhood that rules the Law Society’s roost took its distance from Outerbridge’s clearly biased diatribe and gave Harry a fresh two day hearing recalibrating an indefensible decision into something that would be more appeal-proof.
Establishment politician and lawyer Allan Rock penned the new rationale for the majority Benchers for disbarring Harry but not without provoking the first written dissent in such proceedings in the Law Society’s 200 year history. Blight, ignoring this history, enthusiastically recounted Outerbridge’s diatribe at length in her decision, made no mention of the historic dissenting opinion and, most significantly, made no mention of the fact that the Ontario Legal Aid Plan paid Harry the full amount of his frozen allegedly over-billed accounts (for which he was disbarred), but only after his disbarment! Ah, what a wonderful Alice-in-Wonderland world the spin-meisters of the Law Society dwell in!
Double Standard at Work
Blight reprises Outerbridge’s worst excesses by falsely alleging Harry’s was out of control at the hearings where she pummeled him with endless interruptions, denied him the right to respond, imposed extremely short and onerous limits and restrictions on the length of evidence and witnesses he could present and the disclosure he was entitled to receive. Then, she unashamedly adopts Outerbridge’s mantle by identifying Harry’s conduct at the hearing with Outerbridge’s discredited characterization of him. History repeats itself.
Hold on, there’s more. Blight also made a big deal about Harry’s omission of the actual lengthy disbarment decision from his application to be grandparented, even though he referenced it and included the dissent. Blight acknowledged it was not hidden but another example of Harry’s disdain for the Law Society’s authority. So let’s get this right. You lose your right to earn a living because you didn’t send multiple photocopies involving hundreds of pages of a decision that the Law Society, which made the disbarment decision that Harry directed its attention to, already had in their extensive records and was completely aware of? Give us a break…
Another issue that Blight was channeling for the prosecution was Harry’s alleged failure to abide by his undertaking in his application to obey the Law Society’s rules while his grandparenting application was being processed. Kopyto argued that he had a vested interest in being grandparented which the law Society had no jurisdiction to place conditions on and that any breach was justified, in good faith for the public benefit on the basis of the legal defense of necessity—allowing him to continue to provide affordable access to justice. But if Blight, famous for her slyness and polished deceit, was so concerned about propriety and candor, why did her decision not address Greenaway’s admission at the hearing that the Law Society had already decided to force a good character hearing on Harry despite his letter telling Harry that no decision would be made until the investigation was complete? Could it possibly be—God forbid— that a double standard is at work?
Remember also that Harry never denied his representation and assistance to clients in the high courts. His testimony revealed at least a dozen references in the Law Society files and newspapers, in recent years, including front page newspaper articles, detailing such assistance. Not once did the Law Society prosecute Harry, knowing full well the broad public support Harry would garner in such a direct confrontation. So here we are, Harry tied to the stake before a firing squad, for breaching a by-law that the Law Society itself, refused to enforce. This is Justice, Law Society-Style.
Law Society Wants Its Pound of Flesh
The next charge against Harry revolved around his failure to maintain updated financial records. It is an open secret that seldom do lawyers or paralegals post their billings within the stringent one-month time limit imposed upon them. The Law Society acknowledges this implicitly by routinely giving licensees extensions to update their financial books when it does spot audits. More significant was the absence of any evidence from clients alleging any improprieties or irregularities in their financial dealings with Harry.
Blight’s penultimate complaint against Harry involved his failure to retire his income tax indebtedness or pay legal costs orders made by the Law Society. However, with his accounts improperly frozen at the time of his disbarment, Harry’s home was foreclosed and his limited savings were used to support his two young children. Compounded by interest and penalties, he was never able to dig himself out from the financial hole caused by his unjustified disbarment.
Blight admonishes Harry for not paying the Law Society its costs as well. True, Harry chose to provide affordable access to clients who would otherwise not have legal representation instead of turning his practice into a money-making machine to make payments to the Society which is the richest and most powerful organization in Ontario outside the government with a staff of 600 and a budget of tens of millions of dollar annually. Everyone who feels sorry for the multitude of impoverished lawyers earning a measly $600 an hour after ten years practice, lining up at the food banks, raise your hands!
Is it a Tragedy or a Comedy?
As the Law Society’s theatrical production of Harry’s good character hearings fade into black with a predictable denouement, we ask ourselves: is it a tragedy or a comedy?
Blight accuses Harry of violating his duties under the Law Society rules while ignoring her own obligations as a judge to be unbiased and avoid a conflict of interest when she learned that her self-represented adversary, Mike Giftopoulos, who, in her practice as a lawyer, was suing her client, would appear as a key character witness for Harry.
What did Blight do? Resign from the Panel with grace? Avoid the absurdity of sitting in judgment of the testimony of her opponent whom she was trashing on behalf of her client days earlier? Avoid a gross appearance of bias? Not in a million years! Not only did Blight proceed to assess Mike’s testimony for Harry at the Law Society hearing which focused on Harry’s free representation of Mike in that very same lawsuit Blight was defending—but she passed on the job of litigating against Mike to another member of her law firm while admitting that she would still benefit financially despite the reassignment of the file!
This cheap ruse did nothing to resolve Blight’s appearance of bias but instead added a financial conflict of interest to the mix. Blight, the defender, promoter and advocate of rule-obedience as the ultimate test of morality, shamelessly breached the two fundamental principles of conduct governing judges’ conduct. Can we not conclude that it is Blight herself that is rule-disobedient and ungovernable?
And so the question reappears: Has the Blight puppet show been a tragedy? Or has it been a comedy? And the answer? Neither.
It’s been a farce.