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Lawyer sues ex-employer’s counsel over comments about dismissal suit

|Written By Yamri Taddese

An associate who sued a Toronto lawyer for allegedly firing her without “a scintilla of mild misconduct” has now launched a libel lawsuit against her former employer and her lawyer for comments made in a June 2013 Law Times article.

Golnaz Simaei, who worked as an associate for lawyer Julie Hannaford, is accusing her former employer of “intentional or, alternatively, negligent infliction of nervous shock” through what she described in her original statement of claim as a toxic work environment. None of the allegations have been proven in court.

After Hannaford’s counsel, Mel Solmon, told Law Times his client believed Simaei’s allegations were false and “scandalous,” Simaei sued Solmon and Hannaford for $3 million each for libel and “injurious falsehood.” She’s also seeking an additional $100,000 from each of them in punitive damages.

In a June 2013 e-mail to Law Times, Solmon said Simaei made the allegations “knowing she had an absolute privilege concerning false statements set out in the statement of claim, and she knows that her claims cannot be supported.”

Those comments have damaged her reputation and caused her to lose business, Simaei alleged in the libel lawsuit. None of the allegations in that case have been proven in court.

“The statement made by Solmon on behalf of himself and his client infer that all of the allegations made by the plaintiff in her statement of claim are nonsensical, false, and moreover, that the plaintiff knows that and is a liar,” the libel lawsuit states.

“The statements also infer that the plaintiff is ‘abusing’ the judicial process for ulterior motives contrary to her obligations as a member of a bar.”

In her claim, Simaei alleges the statements suggest she lacks integrity, is an extortionist, intends to mislead the court, and that despite being a lawyer, she “makes a mockery of the court’s processes.”

The defendants knew making the statements would leave her unemployable in the family law bar, the lawsuit claims. “They have done so, and the plaintiff remains unemployed,” her statement of claim reads. Simaei has now opened her own practice, Simaei Law.

In his statement of defence, Solmon said he didn’t “make negative statements intended to disparage the reputation of the plaintiff.”

“The statements made in the June 11, 2013 e-mail were made on an occasion of qualified privilege and were not made out of malice,” his statement of defence states.

“The statements were reasonably necessary in the circumstances and were made in response to a request from a news journalist to ensure a balanced news story.”

Since Hannaford and her firm hadn’t filed a full statement of defence at the time of the Law Times article, the pleadings would have only told one side of the story, Solmon’s defence asserts.

Solmon’s statement of defence also says his main intention in his e-mail to Law Times was in fact to discourage the newspaper from publishing the story as Hannaford hadn’t yet filed a full defence. His e-mail to Law Times said the right forum to deal with the matter was in court, according to the defence, which suggests the article took his comments out of context.

Solmon had said Hannaford wasn’t able to file a full statement of defence at the time because the plaintiff’s lawyer hadn’t provided documents mentioned in the pleading in a timely manner.

In response to this defence, Simaei’s statement of claim noted she’s relying on “the entirety of the e-mail exchange” with Law Times and the “entirety of the Law Times article.”

It continues: “If the purpose of [Solmon’s] e-mail was to prevent the article from being published, the e-mail from the defendant Solmon would not have contained its libelous portions.”

Solmon didn’t respond to a Law Times request for comment regarding the libel lawsuit. According to Josephine Comegna, Simaei’s counsel, Hannaford argued a motion in January to strike a significant portion of Simaei’s statement of claim in the wrongful dismissal action. The court hasn’t rendered a decision on the motion.

In the original lawsuit, Simaei accused Hannaford of creating “a reign of terror” while she worked as her associate until March 2013 when she was “precipitously terminated by e-mail while returning from vacation.”

The statement of claim detailed Hannaford’s alleged mistreatment of Simaei, which included yelling, isolating her from clients and other employees, and at times dictating her correspondence with others.

At one point in 2009, according to the statement of claim, she resigned from her job after an office clerk and her boyfriend were “permitted by Hannaford to bully and harass” her.

According to Simaei’s statement of claim, she eventually returned to work for Hannaford. “When the plaintiff resigned, Hannaford cried over the phone, pleading for the plaintiff to change her decision,” Simaei’s statement of claim states.

In a temporary defence filed at the time of the original Law Times article, Hannaford denied Simaei’s claims, calling them “irrelevant allegations.”

“The defendants state that the statement of claim is an improper pleading, containing scandalous allegations, frivolous and vexatious claims, evidence, unsubstantiated causes of action and irrelevant allegations,” the statement of defence, signed on May 30, asserted.

“The pleading is an abuse of process and was designed to intimidate.”

  • #Anon

    Annonymous Anon
    I was bullied by Hannaford as a an employee. Her office was a revolving door. I'm so happy as well that someone is standing up to her.
  • Sharon Gilbert
    I found this article interesting not because of the use of the words "infer" or "imply". ("infer" means "to suggest") but because this case teaches a good lesson to all lawyers. When your case is before the court, the best comment for your client is "No comment".
  • John Neal
    [quote name="Sharon Gilbert"] ("infer" means "to suggest") [/quote]. It does not. It is the speaker who implies, or suggests. It is the listener who infers, or deduces. For a lawyer to get that wrong, in formal pleadings, in a defamation lawsuit...it's pathetic.
  • Jamie Benn
    Mr. Neal,

    I would not throw around words like "pathetic." Lest you end up waking up a defendant in another lawsuit...

    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/infer

    3. a : to involve as a normal outcome of thought
    b : to point out : indicate
    4.
    : suggest, hint
  • John Neal
    [quote name="Jamie Benn"]
    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/infer

    Interesting. But I see that you have omitted the bit where it says: "At present sense 4 is found in print chiefly in letters to the editor and other informal prose, not in serious intellectual writing." In other words, it's an error. I have never seen a lawyer or judge use "infer" in the sense used in these pleadings. The Oxford Dictionary (which is generally preferred over MW in Canadian jurisprudence) says "Use of infer to mean imply, as in ‘are you inferring that I’m a liar?’ (instead of ‘are you implying that I’m a liar?’ ), is an extremely common error." So notwithstanding the ugly (albeit amusing) threat you raise that I myself will now be sued, I will continue to express my view that to see this, in formal pleadings, in a defamation action, makes me weep for my profession. :)
  • Anonymous
    I was also bullied numerous times by Hannaford during law school. It makes me so happy to see that someone is finally standing up to her.
  • Barry Goldman
    John, you stole my thunder; I was thinking the exact same thing.
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