|Lee Akazaki says a judge’s comments about a man who masqueraded as a lawyer at a recent criminal trial do not do any favours for the legal profession.|
Kassam had been working in Seif’s law firm when he held himself out as a lawyer to potential clients, despite the fact he did not have a licence to provide legal services in Ontario.
The sentencing judge, Ontario Superior Court Justice Cary Boswell, said Kassam was engaged in “a lengthy and somewhat sophisticated fraud.”
“He held himself out as a lawyer and not only deprived members of the public of sizable amounts of money, but also deprived them of competent legal counsel at a time when they were in need of it,” Boswell said in the decision. “He appears to have been motivated entirely by greed.”
Seif hired Kassam in 2012 to work in his firm as a legal assistant and office manager.
Kassam was tasked with conducting intake interviews and completing retainer agreements, but he started presenting himself as a lawyer and taking on clients of his own.
The court found Seif was not aware Kassam had done this, but it also found that he had not provided “sufficient oversight or supervision.”
“Mr. Kassam essentially performed the role of a junior lawyer or paralegal, though it is not clear to me how much of this role Mr. Seif was aware of and/or condoned,” Boswell said.
After having worked at the firm for about a year, Kassam wrote himself a cheque from Seif’s trust account for $6,000, forging Seif’s signature, and deposited it into his bank account, the decision said.
Kassam later worked for two other law firms, at which he held himself out “as a lawyer to members of the public.”
He took retainers from clients, who thought he was their lawyer, and even appeared in court, presenting himself as counsel.
He preyed upon vulnerable people who needed legal help, taking retainers and payments from them under the false impression he was their lawyer, the decision said.
He also used Seif’s Law Society of Upper Canada number.
Kassam, however, was not charged with impersonating a lawyer under the Law Society Act, which would have brought a penalty of $25,000 for a first offence.
One of his victims lost $25,920, but they werre able to recover $10,000, according to the decision.
Another lost $6,000 and was able to recover $3,200, and a third lost $8,000.
Kassam, who represented himself in the case, requested to defer his sentencing, saying he wished to finish a law degree he claimed he had been studying for at a university in England. He had also claimed to have a law degree from a university in Florida.
Boswell remarked that Kassam was bright and capable and could have been a competent lawyer if he was not a criminal.
“Mr. Kassam’s choice of a criminal lifestyle is tragic because, from what I have witnessed, had he pursued his career honestly, he could have been a very competent lawyer,” Boswell said.
Toronto lawyer Lee Akazaki took issue with Boswell’s comments concerning Kassam’s competency, saying they were “not helpful” as they “feed Kassam’s own mythomania that he is a lawyer but for the formality of an Ontario licence.”
“It is like saying someone could have been a great doctor if he only cared about helping his patients get better,” says Akazaki, who was not involved in the case.
Akazaki says the statement does not do any favours for the legal profession as it implies that being a lawyer involves a skillset that is somehow severable from duties of honesty and trust.
“Everything that we do involves not only honesty but upholding the rule of law and the confidence the public places in us,” he says.
“It’s not just one ingredient of what we do.”
Kassam also brought a motion for a directed verdict eliminating some counts from the charge before trial. Akazaki says this shows Kassam had a belief he could use arguments to get around the facts, and that he had no appreciation for what a lawyer does.
“The belief that you can change the facts is something that lawyers should guard against, because the truth at the end of the day is the only thing we have to work with,” Akazaki says.
The Crown sought a sentence of four to five years for Kassam, but the judge settled on three. Boswell noted Kassam’s prior criminal convictions as reasons he serve a prison sentence.
In 2004, Kassam was convicted for fraud over $5,000 and uttering a forged document. In 2005, he was also convicted of multiple counts of fraud.
“Mr. Kassam needs to stop defrauding people,” Boswell said.
“For reasons best known only to him, it would appear to be his preferential means of doing business.
Dishonesty appears to have become a way of life for him.”
Seif declined to comment.