LSUC investigators have claimed that lawyer John D’Alimonte has been involved in an arrangement in which he or his firm — the Merricks Law Group — agreed to pay a Florida-based medical and legal referral service called 1-800-Ask-Gary for referrals. Paying a referral fee to anyone who is not a lawyer is against the law society’s Rules of Conduct.
The law society recently filed a notice of application also alleging the lawyer has been improperly advertising legal services through the Ask Gary service and that his website made misleading or confusing claims.
The law society recently approved changes to advertising rules that banned the advertising of second-opinion services and made it explicit that licensees can only advertise work they intend to do.
While LSUC benchers were considering these regulatory changes, the law society also conducted a number of investigations into complaints concerning advertising that allegedly breached the existing rules.
Within the last year, the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association declined D’Alimonte’s membership application to the organization, according to Ronald Bohm, the OTLA’s president-elect. This was because it was clear the lawyer’s marketing practices did not comply with the standards in the OTLA’s code, Bohm says.
“We have specific provisions requiring marketing be done in a manner that is not potentially misleading or confusing and that lawyers are responsible for the manner in which members of their firm or associated with their firm are acting,” he says.
In the LSUC’s notice of application, the regulator alleged that D’Alimonte has been in the arrangement with 1-800-Ask-Gary since October 2015.
The notice of application said the service’s ads are “improper insofar as the Ontario public is advised inaccurately that AskGary will provide medical as well as legal assistance . . .”
The provincial regulator is also claiming D’Alimonte has improper marketing on his website, onguardforthee.com.
“The website marketing is improper insofar as the respondent advertises aggressive services, describes past success without stating that past results are not necessarily indicative of future results, advertises specialization in the absence of certification from the law society, and markets the provision of second opinions,” the notice of application said.
The website also contains misleading information about the number of lawyers who practice in Ontario with the firm and their experience, as well as the number and location of offices the firm has, the LSUC said.
D’Alimonte, who was called to the bar in 2013, was listed as Florida-based Merricks Law Group’s Canadian managing lawyer on its website as recently as last year. The website used to say that it had a “continental network of lawyers” and had represented “thousands of people and their families across both Canada and the United States.”
Bohm says the law society has clearly expressed concern about misleading and confusing advertising.
“Clearly, this is a foreign jurisdiction marketing idea that doesn’t work within the regulatory framework we have,” says Bohm.
An LSUC spokeswoman says that when a hearing panel finds a lawyer has engaged in professional misconduct, they can face penalties from a reprimand or suspension to a revocation of their licence.
Darryl Singer, a lawyer representing D’Alimonte and Merricks Law Group, says that the proceeding is at the earliest stage of discipline with a proceeding management conference set for Jan. 15, 2018.
“Mr. D’Alimonte intends to make full answer and defence to the proceedings launched against him and has a meritorious defence on the merits,” he says. Singer adds that none of the allegations against D’Alimonte has been proven.