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Another lawyer in hot water over service to refugee claimants

|Written By Tali Folkins

Less than a month after its suspension of Viktor Hohots for failing to adequately represent refugee claimants, the Law Society Tribunal is holding a disciplinary hearing against another Greater Toronto Area lawyer on similar allegations.

The recent cases are probably not indicative of a trend of increasing concerns among refugee lawyers, says Raoul Boulakia.

On June 15, the tribunal began a hearing against Erzsebet Jaszi involving two applications it has decided to hear together. In both, the LSUC alleges that between 2009 and 2011, Jaszi didn’t properly serve a total of 10 clients, including nine Roma refugee claimants and their families. At least three of the Roma families have now either been deported or are facing deportation.

The case, Law Society of Upper Canada counsel Lisa Freeman told the panel in her opening, was primarily about vulnerable clients served by Jaszi in a “cavalier and woefully inadequate fashion.” Many of the LSUC’s allegations against Jaszi revolve around her use of personal information forms issued to refugee claimants to make their case for asylum. The forms, Freeman told the panel, are “the single most important document a lawyer can prepare for his or her clients’ refugee claims.”

The allegations against Jaszi include failing to prepare the forms adequately, in one case preparing one on behalf of a claimant and his family without ever having met or spoken with them and in other situations allowing claimants to sign blank or incomplete documents. In some cases, the LSUC alleges, Jaszi filed the forms after the deadline to do so had passed without providing an explanation for the late filing.

The second application includes an additional allegation that Jaszi intentionally overbilled Legal Aid Ontario for $1,390 “more or less for services not provided.”

The hearing began with a revelation by Freeman that Jaszi had left a voicemail that morning to let the LSUC know she wouldn’t be attending.

Freeman and her co-counsel, Joshua Elcombe, then gave arguments for why the LSUC should proceed regardless and at one point played a recording of the voicemail.

In the message, Jaszi said she was “very sorry she wouldn’t be able to attend” but noted she had been dealing with health and personal issues.

Panel chairwoman Barbara Murchie agreed to proceed with the hearing, citing a number of reasons including the “vague and unsupported” nature of the health and personal issues mentioned in the voicemail. By missing the hearing, the panel deemed Jaszi to have admitted facts in a form submitted by LSUC counsel.

The hearing included expert testimony by Lorne Waldman, past president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers. Among other things, Waldman told the panel that it’s extremely important to complete a personal information form in great detail and with accuracy because inconsistencies and omissions between the written information and what claimants say at their refugee hearings can detract from their credibility. In examining the forms prepared by Jaszi, Waldman said he was able to see they often fell below the standards needed to adequately prepare a refugee case.

Jaszi couldn’t be reached for comment on the allegations.

Last week’s proceedings follow the tribunal’s suspension of Hohots last month for five months after which he faces a two-year restriction on representing refugees. In that case, 17 Roma refugee claimants had complained Hohots had inadequately prepared them before their hearings. All have since been deported.

Asked about the close succession of these cases, Raoul Boulakia, president of the Refugee Lawyers Association, says it was probably not indicative of a trend of increasing concerns among refugee lawyers. Instead, he says the pattern is more likely due to “structural changes” at the LSUC, especially when it comes to dealing with allegations against refugee lawyers. “The LSUC has traditionally been very bad on these cases” and not given them much priority, he says. More recently, he notes, there has been some reform at the LSUC “to make the complaints process more professional, more like a tribunal.”

The LSUC’s move, for example, to engage an expert witness in a hearing against a refugee lawyer is “a huge change from two years ago,” he says. “They never would have done that.”

The hearing panel has reserved its decision with the proceedings against Jaszi scheduled to resume in August. 

  

For more, see "Hohots case shows need for 'massive reform': Eberts."

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