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LSUC harassing me: lawyer

|Written By Michael McKiernan

A Mississauga, Ont., lawyer has failed in an attempt to have disciplinary proceedings against him dropped after he alleged the Law Society of Upper Canada was harassing and discriminating against him.

‘This is discrimination,’ Ravinder Sawhney says of disciplinary hearings against him while white lawyers allegedly avoid sanction.

In an application filed with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, Ravinder Sawhney, a lawyer of South Asian descent, alleged the law society had discriminated against him by failing to properly investigate complaints about white lawyers on the other side of the matter that landed him in regulatory trouble.

He also claimed the law society harassed him by sending fake clients to his office and using its lawyer referral service to pepper him with technical questions, allegations the LSUC says are groundless.

“The society is unconscionable in its stand that I need and deserve to be disciplined whereas the white lawyers who remain privileged must not be questioned for wrongdoing. This is discrimination,” Sawhney wrote in his application.

Sawhney wanted his disciplinary hearing that was due to start on April 11 stayed, but in an interim decision released on April 5, HRTO vice chairwoman Sherry Liang said the evidence he presented fell well short of the high threshold required for an immediate remedy. Instead, she asked both sides for submissions on whether the matter should be deferred until after Sawhney’s hearing.

“Interim remedies are extraordinary in that they constitute an order to do or refrain from doing something in the absence of a finding that the code has been violated,” Liang wrote in the decision, adding she wasn’t even sure whether the HRTO had the authority to intervene in a case before another administrative body.

At the outset of his hearing on April 11, Sawhney, representing himself, returned to the issue of discrimination and urged the law society to stay his hearing until the HRTO can make a final determination.

That motion was ultimately unsuccessful, and the hearing on the merits of Sawhney’s alleged misconduct is ongoing.

Jan Parnega-Welch, counsel for the law society, said Sawhney had produced no evidence to back up his discrimination claims and argued the allegations against the lawyer stand alone regardless of the complaints about colleagues involved in the matter.

Sawhney allegedly failed to serve his client in a wrongful dismissal action against Telus Communications Co. by spending “unnecessary and excessive amounts of time on legal education and research” and taking inadequate notes of research and client meetings.

The law society also alleges he charged fees that were “not fair or reasonable.” The client complained about Sawhney after switching lawyers in 2007.

An assessment reduced six accounts rendered by Sawhney, totalling almost $140,000, to $6,500 in early 2008. A Superior Court judge upheld the assessment in October 2008. The Court of Appeal dismissed a further challenge of it in April 2009.

Sawhney tells Law Times he was simply preparing himself properly for each stage of the action and never expected his client to pay his bill. “It was not my expectation ever that the bill was affordable to her since the bill was for payment by the billion-dollar company from whom justice was being sought,” he says.

Instead, he traces the roots of the dispute back to 2005, when he made an application for case management of the Telus matter on the grounds that the lawyer on the other side was being unco-operative by, for example, ignoring his communications. He also accused his opponents of sending out documents, including a counterclaim, without having them issued by the court.

Master Calum MacLeod dismissed the initial application on June 2, 2005, and rebuked Sawhney for basing his argument on complaints about opposing counsel.

“If a party has a serious issue concerning the conduct of a party or of opposing counsel, particularly if there are contested facts, it is not proper to try to address this in submissions to the court unsupported by an evidentiary record,” MacLeod wrote. “It is certainly not proper to write a letter to the court accusing the other side of misconduct and asking for case management.”

Sawhney was eventually successful in his application for case management but he told the law society hearing panel the decision dealt a serious blow to his credibility with the court and his client and argued the opposing lawyer had misled MacLeod.

Sawhney launched a complaint of his own about the other lawyer’s conduct but he learned three weeks before his own hearing that the investigation had been closed. Further complaints by Sawhney about other opposing lawyers in the case have been dismissed.

“Where the integrity of two lawyers is in question, the law society has an obligation to even-handedly investigate and reach a decision,” Sawhney told the panel. “Then, after three years, they simply ignore it and say we are only interested in you.”

In evidence given to the panel, Sawhney also accused the law society of harassing him by bombarding him with calls from fake clients to test his knowledge. The investigation against him was paused in 2007 while assessment proceedings were underway but it resumed in the summer of 2009 after the final determination in the Court of Appeal.

Around the same time, Sawhney claims he began getting unusual calls through the law society’s lawyer referral service from people he suspected weren’t real potential clients.

“In 16 years of practice, I have found callers are typically people in some kind of distress, and they have some issue they want resolved,” Sawhney said at the hearing. “These people would ask very technical questions in a lawyer-type way. They were testing me.”

According to Sawhney, one family wanted to meet him in person and gave him a grilling on the law in his office. “They started looking and examining what was around my office,” he said. “It was obviously someone trying to investigate me. I knew the law society was setting me up and was going to make my life miserable. Nobody else has that vendetta against me.”

Sawhney claims the calls kept coming for six months, with the volume peaking at the beginning of 2010 at the same time the law society authorized the proceedings against him. He alleges the calls stopped only after he asked the director of the Ontario Lawyers’ Assistance Program to intervene.

But Parnega-Welch told the panel there was no evidence the law society had any involvement in the alleged phone calls or visit. “The present motion is really another attempt to put off a hearing on the merits, and there is a lengthy history,” she said, pointing to numerous adjournment requests by Sawhney at the pre-hearing stage.

  • Law Student
    This guy is a serious loser. He needs to stop taking advantage of his employees and clients and take the boot!
  • Co-Op Student Writes
    I worked for Ravinder Sawhey during high-school as a co-op student. I was treated with such degrade and knew karma would take its course.
  • Mukesh BHardwaj
    In a tipical mortgage action the mortgagee (BANK) is represented by law firms who charge exorbitant amount of legal fee, adminstration fee, renewal fee , default fee and literaly makes the poor man homeless with no hope of him able to pay the total outstanding. Has LSUC ever investigated even one of this type of account.
  • Mark Persaud
    Several reports and the Courts have confirmedthat racial discrimination is a reality in Canada. However, allegations of racism in any case without any credible evidentiary foundation should be considered an affront to those who have experienced discrimination.
  • anonymous
    If his credibility was challenged, do you really believe he was not planning on collecting if unsuccessful? Also, racism exists but it is not always the case when cried out. It appears here that it was racism on everything? Did the client claim this too? Who was racist? The courts, HRTO, LSUC, anybody who opposed? Maybe LSUC did exercise the right judgment in this case, perhaps we should view the facts of the whole issue and not judge on the summary.
  • Shelia Carter
    Interestingly enough - both former clients were of south Asian descent as was one of the lawyers that Mr. Sawhney made another one of his baseless complaints to the LSUC of.
  • john marshall
    looks like this lawyer has a history of thinking the system is out to get him... check out http://www.canlii.org/en/on/onsc/doc/2008/2008canlii49164/2008canlii49164.html

    Over there his defence was that the Assessment Officer was biased. Justice Aston said there was no evidence to support such a claim.

    The real issue here is why has the Law Society waited so long to investigate this guy? Already back in 2007 a judicial officer questioned his CREDIBILITYsaid that "With regard to Mr. Sawhney’s credibility, his inability to explain his actions, his inability to provide proper notes, his total lack of recall, give me serious, serious concerns with regard to the accuracy of his evidence.”

    You would think that such a finding would give rise to an automatic investigation. If the allegations against the solictor are correct then LSUC has clearly failed in its responsibility of protecting the public!!!
  • Robert Renault
    What struck me most is that the lawyer was not asking for his money from the client. He wanted the billion dollar company to pay. What could be wrong with that?
  • Jeff Leduc
    The lawyer not only asked for money from the client, he took it, long before any settlement with the billion dollar company (no settlement before he was relieved of his duties).
  • Harish Kuthrapalia
    It is high time the Canadian legal system stops paying lip service to the existence of racism in the legal system.
  • Sarah Paks
    Yeah, the alleged facts of this matter make me cringe too. What is really sad is that the LSUC, this so-called "self governing body" is so corrupt and obviously biased and discriminatory. This body is the one that should be subjected to disciplinary action, not the poor private practice brown lawyer who has to deal with the repercussions of a corrupt law society. It IS sad!
  • Don Desaulniers
    The alleged facts of this matter make me cringe. The poor client must have almost croaked when she got the bill. No wonder she changed lawyers in 2007.
    This type of lawyer conduct cries out for disciplinary action. I presume he is still running his law practice years after the initial complaint. That is sad.
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