Editorial: LSUC should back down on Groia costs order

When the Law Society of Upper Canada suspended former lawyer Julia Ranieri in 2009 for, among other things, punching a client in the nose, it sought $5,000 in costs.

When it later disbarred her for a further civility breach against a law clerk as well as a number of other acts of misconduct, it ordered her to pay $10,000 in costs.

In the case of Ernest Guiste, another lawyer taken to task for incivility, the LSUC issued him a reprimand and didn’t make a costs order against him. The hearing panel faulted him for using rude and profane language and raising his voice during a mediation session; communicating with people on the opposing side in a manner that was abusive or otherwise inconsistent with the proper tone of a professional lawyer; and failing to treat the court with courtesy and respect.

In the case of Joe Groia, whose prosecution by the law society has sparked a vigorous debate over the extent of lawyers’ obligations to be civil in court, the law society revealed last week that it was seeking $250,000 in costs from him. It justifies the high amount based on more than 1,000 hours in lawyer, clerk, and student time spent on the file.

There’s certainly a good argument for basing cost orders on the law society’s time spent on a case. But in Groia’s matter, the amount sought is obviously way out of proportion to the severity of the misconduct. The law society has found him guilty of misconduct for his aggressive defence of former client John Felderhof during the high-profile trial related to the Bre-X Minerals Ltd. fiasco. It found “Groia’s attacks on the prosecution were unjustified and therefore constituted conduct that fell below the standards of principles of civility, courtesy, and good faith required by the Rules of Professional Conduct.”

But while the case may have been a complicated one, Groia’s actions in no way approach the seriousness of a lawyer who punched a client in the nose. If the law society ordered the lawyer in that case to pay $5,000 in costs, Groia should surely pay less.

In fact, given the significant price Groia has already paid for a prosecution that’s obviously seeking to make an example out of someone, there’s a good argument that there should be no costs order. The fact that his case is a high-profile one doesn’t mean he should be on the hook for costs as he’s already paid the price in other ways.

The costs issue is quite apart from the question of where the law society should be drawing the boundaries when it comes to regulating civility. But when it comes to costs, at least, it’s clear it should back down.

For more commentary on this issue, see "LSUC pursuing civility at expense of justice."

Glenn Kauth

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