Monday, February 16, 2015

Legal Profession in Ontario is at a Cross-Roads:Why Joe Groia Gets my Vote

     The legal profession in Ontario is currently like a rampaging adolescent seeking to satisfy its parents - the public and the Ontario Government - that it is responsible and relevant and capable of acting in their best interest. Theft and fraud by lawyers chronicled in a recent Toronto Star article and the alleged unwillingness or inability of the governing body to devise a comprehensive policy which includes criminal prosecution has recently resulted in the governing body reaching out to police in an effort to address this alleged problem.  At a time when ordinary Canadians are increasingly unable to afford the services of lawyers and young lawyers and especially women lawyers and lawyers from racial minority groups find themselves constructively shut-out of the profession - it is clear that we in the legal profession need to reevaluate our priorities.

     The upcoming Bencher elections will determine whether we move forward or whether we stay on the current path which appears destined to erode the fundamental principles which we as lawyers and the public have come to expect of us - the champions of the Rule of Law and individual liberty. It is lawyers who ensure that the individual's rights are respected by the state.  It is not the police.  It is not the judiciary.  It is a job not fit for all.  Legislatures can pass all of the law in the world but it is the lawyer who brings these laws to fruition and delivers them to the public. History shows us this fact.  The U.S. Constitution clearly stipulated equality.  However, that did not bring equality to African-Americans.  It took great lawyers like Charles Houston and Thurgood Marshall to bring those rights to fruition.

     Mr. Joe Groia has decided to seek to join the governing body of our profession at a time when we most need his skill, compassion and leadership.  Mr. Groia "stepped-up" and represented an unpopular client facing a formidable opponent in the Ontario Securities Commission.  He successfully defended a man who without his assistance would likely have been found guilty.  He did so I am made to understand either pro bono or at a substantially reduced fee for a lawyer of his calibre.  I am impressed by this as a lawyer who respects the Rule of Law and the important place that we as lawyers play in it.

      The late great Chief Justice Bora Laskin said that law without compassion is void.  What I take from this simple sentence is that law is not a science and the job of the lawyer is plagued by all of the imperfections which come with being human.  One great jurist put it this way - "litigation is not tea party."  A life experience example will illustrate my point here.  I was conducting a discovery on behalf of a plaintiff who was bullied by his immediate supervisor to the point of requiring psychiatric care.  The other lawyer was most obstructive in my view and refusing to allow the witness to answer relevant questions.  I understandably got upset and referred to him as a "little man."  He aborted the discovery and a motion followed.  We appeared before Master Linton.  Master Linton found no fault with my statement and awarded my client costs.  He went on to state that I showed great restraint by referring to the other lawyer as a "little man" as there were  a lot of other things I could have called him.  This was before civility became a serious issue with the governing body.  Myself and the other lawyer went on to settle the case nicely and I fully understood where he was coming from.  The court dealt with the problem and all was well !

     I do not know Mr. Groia personally.  My decision to support him is based on the soundness of his position and the very civil manner in which he has elected to advocate his position - like a true lawyer.  He to me embodies the wisdom and compassion that our profession is so in need of in these challenging times. I am confident that he will serve both us as lawyers and the people of Ontario very well.  Another lawyer who impressed me lots was jailed for being both incivil and contemptuous in his fight against South Africa's Apartheid laws.

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