A disciplinary panel has ruled against temporarily suspending a Windsor litigator over allegations that her romantic relationship with a suspended lawyer resulted in her helping him to illicitly practise law.
“Hearing from the respondent reduces our concerns about the effect of the resumption of her relationship,” writes Law Society of Upper Canada panelist Susan Richer, backed by Suzanne Clement, in an April 8 decision.
The panel rejected a motion by Law Society prosecutors to replace existing interlocutory restrictions on Maria Marusic’s licence with a full interlocutory suspension.
Her licence was restricted by another panel last year pending an investigation into the alleged misappropriation of trust funds held by her former law firm, the now-dissolved Shulgan Martini Marusic LLP.
The recent panel imposed one further control on Marusic’s licence: She is barred from allowing Claudio Martini, her romantic partner and former law partner, into her office.
In a dissent, panel chair Sophie Martel would have imposed a full interlocutory suspension.
Martel notes that the 49-year-old lawyer has renewed her personal relationship with Martini, 52, despite previously professing to be shocked by his deceit. The resumed romance and the relocation of her Windsor practice, Marusic Law, to the building where Martini works heighten the risk of harm to the public, Martel writes.
A Law Society spokesperson said it is reviewing the decision and has no comment.
Brian Greenspan, Marusic’s lawyer, told Law Times that Marusic has been an able and highly regarded litigator for 20 years.
Greenspan said it is stereotypical for the Law Society to question the resumption of Marusic’s personal relationship with Martini because there is no evidence he had a controlling influence on her professional life.
Until there is, Greenspan said, “I don’t think it’s any of the Law Society’s business what people do in their personal lives and whether or not they choose to reconcile with people with whom they were previously estranged.”
The ruling is the latest in a complex web of allegations regarding Martini’s practice going back to the mid-2000s.
Martini was once a prominent Windsor lawyer and Marusic’s law partner in their now-defunct firm.
They were in a romantic relationship between 2001 and March 2015, and once took steps to jointly buy a house. The romance resumed in August 2015.
In October 2014, Martini was found guilty of professional misconduct for deceiving two clients about their legal proceedings. He was suspended three months later.
A Law Society investigation into the firm began in December 2014 when Martini admitted to using $50,000 of trust funds held for one company to pay another client in a fake settlement. Money was withdrawn 12 times from trust funds held for the company, contrary to unfulfilled trust conditions.
Marusic admitted to co-signing three trust cheques with Martini, through which the law firm paid itself fees totalling $1.26 million.
At first enlisting the advice of lawyer Marie Henein, Marusic told the earlier disciplinary panel that she was the victim of Martini’s deceitful ways and was “shocked and appalled” to learn she had been asked to co-sign cheques when, unknown to her, the trust conditions were unfulfilled. She said their romantic relationship was over.
Martini has stated in an e-mail to the Law Society that he is solely responsible for the inappropriate transfers of those trust funds, of which Marusic had no knowledge. Last year’s panel found significant questions had been raised about Marusic’s integrity regarding the trust funds. The panel imposed restrictions on her use of trust and general bank accounts.
The current proceedings arise with regards to “Client X,” a self-described “very successful lawyer” and “vulture,” whom Martini represented since 2010 in litigation dating back to 1984.
After Martini was suspended, Marusic took carriage of the file, which they discussed on several occasions.
A multi-week trial was scheduled to start in May 2015 in Ottawa, but a settlement was reached in July.
Martini met with Client X and Marusic at an Ottawa condominium building where both she and Client X rented units.
At a meeting in Client X’s unit, Martini hand-wrote an authorization to settle the lawsuit, including the fees Marusic’s law firm would receive. The fees amounted to 54 per cent of the settlement.
Client X subsequently hired new lawyers and is disputing the fees.
Law Society prosecutors submitted the Client X case provides compelling evidence Marusic has been facilitating the practice of law by Martini, in contravention of Law Society regulations.
Marusic, however, testified she consulted Law Society guidelines before enlisting Martini’s help in the transfer of the complex file of more than 4,000 documents.
She said Martini’s presence during pre-trial preparatory meetings was necessary to properly serve Client X.
Through her new lawyers, Greenspan and Naomi Lutes, Marusic asserted that the issue is merely the extension of an ongoing fee dispute with Client X.
They contended it is not the Law Society’s role to be involved in a fee dispute. Greenspan said his team explained to the panel that it was necessary for Martini to be involved in the transferring of the file.