When Harry steps into the Divisional Court at Osgoode Hall in downtown Toronto at 10:00 a.m. on Friday December 2, 2016, there will be two issues he will lay out before the three venerable Judges. His professional fate will be determined by their response.
The first argument Harry will raise is that the Chair of the Law Society Panel that decided that he did not have the good character to work as a legal advocate, Margot Blight, appeared to be biased. How will he prove this?
Enter Mike Giftopoulos…
Enter Mike Giftopoulos. You’ve read about Mike’s story on this blog before. But stay and savour it one more time. You will salivate over some of the previously undisclosed details.
It is an important story for two reasons. First, it shows that the Law Society ignored the most fundamental principles of fairness and neutrality in dealing with Harry. Second, it unmasks the social forces that were at play in Harry’s hearings: on the one hand, Margot Blight representing wealth, power, authority and bosses; on the other, Harry Kopyto, representing a worker without resources struggling to survive in a legal jungle.
Mike was a physical education and guidance teacher who was prevented from returning to work for the Catholic School Board in Hamilton after a disability leave. He was fully recovered and had a medical certificate to prove it. However, Mike, like Harry, is a rabble rouser. Mike had a long history of targeting the crass nepotism between Catholic school boards and the bureaucrats who ran his local branch of the Catholic teachers union (OECTA). The Board saw an opportunity to get rid of a thorn in its side. Accordingly, the Hamilton-Wentworth School Board decided to ignore Mike’s “fit to return to work” medical clearance, hoping he would fade into the woodwork. He didn’t. Instead he protested. The Board fought back, even though they had no leg to stand on. The Board even threatened to call the police in order to remove him from the school premises when Mike volunteered to help students without pay.
A Spark of Resistance
Mike was frustrated. He felt defeated. He was abandoned. He was alone. But he still had a spark of resistance in him. This led him to file a human rights complaint against the Board for discrimination on the basis of disability, But that was only the first step. He needed legal representation. He didn’t have any money to hire a lawyer to counter the Board’s big league pitcher it hired to strike him out before the Human Rights Tribunal. He was without a job. He had children to support and put through school. The union left him out to dry rather than disrupt its cozy relationship with its kissing cousins in the school board’s management. Mike was desperate. What was he to do?
One evening sitting despondent at home, he scrolled the internet looking for help. Unexpectedly, he lit upon Harry Kopyto’s blog (this very blog that you are looking at right now). It hit him like lightning. Could Harry carry the day for him? He immediately grabbed the phone. Soon, he was spilling out his guts to Harry. Harry, always eager to fight for a good cause, agreed to represent Mike. He did so on principle, not asking for a cent in compensation. Mike, aware that Harry was being put through the wringer himself by the Law Society, volunteered without being prompted to be a witness for Harry to attest to his willingness to help him in his case. Harry thought why not and accepted Mike’s suggestion.
Now things get really complicated. While she was acting as a judge for the Law Society, this was not Margot Blight’s full-time job. Her day job was to work as a lawyer for the largest (translation: really, really expensive) law firm in Canada—Borden, Ladner, Gervais. This firm is known for putting out fires for government and public institutions. One of Margot Blight’s specialties was to defend boards of education from complaints by teachers and others of discrimination and harassment.
There was one detail Mike didn’t mention to Harry in that fateful phone call. The lawyer for the Board, the architect of the strategy to undermine Mike, who was also privy to all Mike’s confidential medical and personal information in possession of the Board, was—you guessed it—none other than the esteemed Margot Blight! Yes, that Margot Blight, the one that peered down on Harry as his judge of character from her elevated pedestal on behalf of her Law Society benefactors. Holy cow!
Blight Needed a Win For Her Resume
But Harry didn’t know this until a few weeks later when he reviewed Mike’s file in detail, Harry was stunned to find out, for the first time, who the Board’s lawyer was. He immediately sent off a missive to Margot Blight telling her that he had just discovered that she was acting on the case against Mike and asked her to recuse herself from judging him since Mike was going to be a witness for him. After all, how could Blight assess Mike’s evidence in favour of Harry in a Law Society hearing fairly when she was also fighting Mike tooth and nail in his human rights complaint and was privy to all his personal information?
Harry didn’t realize that it was going to be a big deal if Blight resigned from the Panel. After all, couldn’t the Law Society hearing continue with the other two judges as mandated by the Rules? However, that is not the way that Blight saw it. First, with her unrelenting and spikey personality, Blight knew that she was especially deputized from outside the Law Society’s roster of judges as a hit-person to take Kopyto out and—damn it!—she would do her job. Second, Blight knew that the other two adjudicators on the Panel were too light-weight to deal with Harry. Harry had already blown away two previous Law Society Panels—a total of six judges—before Blight was brought in to administer the coup de grace. She needed the win which would look good on her resume.
Within a day or two of hearing from Harry, Margot Blight implemented her own counter-strategy. First she admitted that this was a “serious situation” (no kidding). Then, she transferred Mike’s file to a fellow lawyer down the hall but still in her own firm to create an illusion of distancing herself. Then, she required Harry to complete all his submissions on why she should remove herself before Mike testified. Then, she took five months until after Mike testified to render her decision not to resign by minimizing Mike’s evidence in her reasons for staying. By this procedure, she denied Harry the opportunity to respond. Harry never had a chance to refute Blight’s attack on Mike’s evidence because of this cheap manoeuvre.
Hang on. There is still another twist to this tale. Because Margot Blight greedily hung on to the School Board’s file within her firm, she continued to have a financial interest in the outcome of Mike’s complaint against the school Board. In Blight’s own words, “It is nonetheless fair to assume that the Chairperson [speaking of herself] has a financial interest of some kind” in the outcome of Mike Giftopoulos’ case. At the same time, Blight could remove Harry from acting as Mike’s representative in his human rights complaint against her firm’s client, which would leave Mike without a representative or, at least, one as motivated to fight for Mike as Harry was. Man oh man!—talk about an egregious conflict of interest.
Director is a Puppet
The second point Harry will raise before the three Divisional Court judges is the unfairness in the way in which the Law Society deals with hearings and appeals in their internal discipline proceedings. He will point out that the Director of the Discipline Tribunal is really a puppet of the Law Society bureaucrats who pull the strings and direct the outcome of all the hearings and appeals in its puppet show. The Director, portrayed as an independent honcho, is more like a Quisling. He is required to sign an employment agreement which can be cancelled by the Law Society any time without cause. Get it? Without cause! How’s that for holding a gun to his head if he waivers from Big Law’s agenda?
This “agreement,” which is no more than a noose around his neck, guarantees slavish obedience to his puppeteers’ dictates. In this way, the Law Society hierarchy controls—through the Director—who gets appointed as judges in its in-house Discipline Division and what prosecutions they are assigned to—matters that are dealt with at arms-length in any legal system or quasi-judicial system worth its weight in salt. The fix is in for targeted lawyers and paralegals like Harry.
The Law Society will argue that quasi-judicial tribunals such as the Law Society’s Discipline Tribunal do not have to adhere to the same standard of adjudicative independence as courts. In other words, the standards of justice are starkly lower for persons whose livelihood is at stake or whose right to participate as advocates in the legal system are concerned compared to, let’s say, traffic courts that deal with parking tickets. Don’t these paragons of virtue have any shame?
Not Intensely Enamoured With Harry
Will the Divisional Court protect Harry’s right to be judged by an unbiased and fair tribunal? Or will it buy into the “I’m all right, Jack” approach when the lords of the manor shape their rules and procedures for its serfs? Will the Court uphold a decision about Harry’s professional fate made by an adjudicator who was in a financial conflict of interest and was a previously hired gun to blast away Harry’s key witness whose evidence she was to judge?
Remember. The backroom boys who run the Law Society club have never been intensely enamoured with Harry to begin with. Harry’s career as an advocate for the legal system’s victims runs right back into the 1970s. Harry has a stellar history of legal breakthroughs for virtually every constituency that gets shafted every day in the courts by the crafty and demonic alliance of Big Law and Big Money. Anyone who has attended Harry’s Law Society hearings may be excused for thinking that they stumbled back in time to witness a medieval heresy trial of a person accused of apostasy by judges ensconced behind opaque curtains.
This hearing on December 2nd may be Harry’s last hurrah. Will he win? Will he lose? The judges will decide. However, your presence at the hearing will let the judges know that, in judging Harry, they will also be judged.
See you there.
Harry’s judicial review hearing will take place between 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. on Friday December 2, 2016 before three judges of the Divisional Court located at Osgoode Hall (northeast corner of Queen Street and University Avenue) in courtroom 3 in downtown Toronto.