Harry Kopyto was already in the cross-hairs of Big Law when the Law Society decided he had to prove his good character to them to be a legal representative. The three Law Society hearing panels that were serially appointed to do the job were about as neutral as a pack of hyenas gnarling at the blood-soaked underbelly of a wounded prey after a lengthy fast.
Are we exaggerating? Judge for yourself.
You probably still remember some details of the crisis that faced the last Law Society panel chaired by Margot Blight.
In the summer of 2013, Harry Kopyto was asked by a high school teacher in Hamilton, Mike Giftopoulos, to represent him in a human rights discrimination case against the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic School Board. Mike was disabled but had recovered from his heart attack. Still, he was not allowed to work full-time by the Board despite clearance from his doctor. Mike, who was a rebel like Harry, was given “special treatment” by the School Board for opposing the nepotism endemic at his workplace.
Harry Was Blown Away
Harry agreed to represent Mike. Nothing much happened until the end of August, 2013. At that time, Mike put Harry on the record as his representative and Harry had a chance to look at the file. What Harry saw blew him away. The lawyer representing the school board was Margot Blight. And now, she could take away Harry’s right to represent Mike who she was suing as a lawyer on behalf of the Board. Talk about a conflict of interest!
Mike knew Harry’s paralegal licence was being reviewed. He had offered without being solicited to be a witness for Harry. But he didn’t realize that Margot Blight was also the chairing judge of Harry’s Law Society Panel. When Harry explained this to Mike, Mike still insisted, as he did from the start, on being a witness at Harry’s good character hearing. He wanted to testify about how Harry agreed to represent him for free out of Harry’s moral commitment to fight discrimination. So, Harry immediately wrote Margot Blight. He asked her to recuse herself.
Blight Judges Herself
Blight’s conflict of interest raised a red flag to Blight. How could Blight judge Mike’s character evidence impartially regarding Harry’s representation of him when she was representing a client litigating against Mike? Blight immediately recognized the problem. Blight freaked out. She conceded the issue was “serious”. But what did she do?
Get this. Instead of resigning, she forced Harry to prove to her that there was an appearance of bias. (Was there any doubt?) Of course, she herself would be judging herself. Can you believe it?
But hold on. There’s more. Instead of referring the School Board file to an outside law firm, Blight passed the file to a colleague of hers down the hall in the same law office. This meant she continued to have a financial interest in the case and its outcome. Wow—does self-interest have no limits?
Blight had a choice. The hearing into Harry’s character could have continued with the remaining two members of the hearing panel. But Blight had to stick around. She had promised the Law Society henchman who appointed her, Al Gold, that she would do the dirty work two earlier hearing panels refused to do. Her credibility with Big Law was on the line. Blight had promises to keep and career prospects to nurture.
Remember. Blight’s hearing panel was the third that had been appointed to judge Harry’s character since 2009. Blight had been brought in from outside the Law Society roster of in-house adjudicators because of her predictable disposition. Her pedigree identified her as an aggressive defender of the status quo which confers lavish payments, prestige and the promise of advancement within the legal hierarchy. Blight was an utterly committed member of the scions of wealth and power that dominate the Law Society. She could be counted on to do the job.
Blight had come a long way since attending a wine and cheese reception as a law student to support Harry sponsored by the University of Toronto faculty in the 1980s, and hanging around the Law Union crowd sipping suds at the Clinton Tavern in downtown Toronto. Now, the mature Margot Blight, with a Bay Street address, craved recognition as a giant slayer. Harry’s professional execution had been imprinted in her genes. How could she call it quits and renege on her aspirations?
Blight Retains Financial Interest
So what did she do? Surprise! Surprise! Blight decided that she did not appear biased despite admitting that she had a financial interest in the outcome of the Giftopoulos case. She ruled that Mike was a “minor” witness. She blocked Harry from refuting her ruling by forcing Harry to make his own submissions on the issue months before she made her own and after Mike Giftopoulos testified as a witness at Harry’s good character hearing. Ah! The putrid smell of the Law Society’s version of justice!
Blight couldn’t avoid admitting that there was the “possibility” that she might have formed a negative opinion about Mike in the course of her opposing him as a lawyer. (Possibility—give us several breaks). Still, she insisted—trust me she said:—that this did not give rise to an appearance of bias. Says who?
Far from being an insignificant witness, Mike gave stunning evidence to illustrate Harry’s good character. Mike explained that Harry had accepted his case which involved important human rights issues as a matter of principle without charge.
Mike’s testified that Harry took on his case as a precedent for advancing the rights of all persons discriminated against on the basis of physical disability and to publicize it broadly for that purpose. It was also Mike’s evidence that they would both use the case to effect changes to systemic discrimination practiced by the school board, which they did. Mike’s evidence about Harry was overwhelming and unassailable. But then, as she was her own judge, who could expect Margot Blight not to marginalize Mike’s testimony? After all, she had a dog in this race.
Blight Builds Firewall to Insulate Herself
Blight’s contortions of logic flourished in the tangled and sagging web created by all her conflicts. She proclaimed, without precedent, that she had built a “firewall” between herself and her colleague now representing the School Board so that there would be no passage of information.
What about the fact that she was privy to all kinds of information that her client, as Mike’s employer, had about Mike? What about the fact that her attack on Mike before the Human Rights Tribunal was a fatal blow to her impartiality? Pshaw!
The legal test to decide if bias exists is what an informed, realistic, practical person would believe. Who could believe that the panel chair, whether consciously or unconsciously, would not be influenced by impressions that she had formed in her recent attacks on Mike? Once you take a hostile position to someone wearing the hat of a lawyer, is it so easy to discard it wearing a hat of a judge? Still, Blight persisted in her masquerade of impartiality.
Rally to Back Harry
On one level, the conflicts that Ms. Blight has with Harry Kopyto are very concrete. On another level, they expose a deeper social conflict. Blight is the person the Law Society chose to judge Harry. She was also chosen to represent the employer who discriminated against Harry’s witness. Blight and her firm defends the Bay Street boys, represents bosses, bureaucrats and the 1%. Harry, on the other hand, represented workers, persons discriminated against and persons with little or no money and influence who can’t even afford 10% of Blight’s hourly billing rate.
This contradiction taints the Law Society’s narrative of Harry’s poor character. In his own case, Harry is obliged to prove to those he opposes that he should be allowed to continue to oppose them. He is trying to teach hyenas table manners with his own carcass in play. This is impartiality—Kafkaesque Law Society style.
Throughout the hearings, dozens of Harry’s clients appeared to support Harry. Their presence limited the arrogant put-downs that the judges directed against him.
But Harry is no quitter. Now, he is moving into a second round. The five judges who will sit on his appeal on October 27, 2015 between 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 375 University Avenue, (south of Dundas 4th floor) will be selected by those who he has fought in the courts over decades. But Harry fights against the odds and won for others. Now, he fights for himself. The presence of the public is just as important now as it has been in the past to ensure that Harry is treated fairly.
Support him. Be there.