Editorial: Manilla deserves 2nd chance with conditions

In many ways, the Law Society of Upper Canada had good reason for denying law school star Ryan Manilla from becoming a lawyer.

Despite graduating in the top 10 per cent of his class at Osgoode Hall Law School and having worked with two prestigious law firms, Manilla clearly went too far in a condo dispute with fellow board members over a fee hike that resulted in criminal harassment charges against him.

By concocting a letter from a purported private investigator falsely alleging the acceptance of kickbacks and domestic assault by fellow board members, Manilla had engaged in “character assassination,” a law society hearing panel concluded.

In the meantime, authorities had already withdrawn the criminal charges after he agreed to sell his condo and stay away from the complainants. He also wrote letters of apology and made $250 donations in their names to charity.

Manilla was before another panel on March 4 arguing his appeal of the good character ruling (see Law Times, page 4). In essence, he argues the panel failed to provide adequate reasons for its conclusions.

In particular, he says there’s no basis for the finding that he was manipulative in owning up to his misdeeds and that not enough time had passed to be sure his character had changed.

The case is certainly a vexing one. On the one hand, allowing Manilla to become a lawyer would cast some doubt on the law society’s willingness to uphold the profession’s standing with the public.

As a lawyer, would he reveal his darker side once again in dealing with clients and possibly adversaries? How would he react to being on the losing side in matters he handles?

On the other hand, Manilla is clearly smart. He certainly would have spent lots of time and money during law school, so it’s a significant matter to deny him the right to practise.

At the same time, it’s possible that his misdeeds with the condo board were more the result of youthful misjudgment rather than an inherent character flaw. In addition, there’s no doubt that he could have learned from his mistakes and won’t repeat them.

The law society panel, however, was right to have concerns over whether enough time had passed and whether he had done enough through anger management and therapy to have learned fully from his misjudgments.

But that only raises the question of whether there was a middle ground for the panel to consider. Could the LSUC allow him to practise for a period under conditions? Why not, as a degree of penance, attach a stipulation that he do a certain amount of pro bono work for the first couple of years of practice?

In the meantime, if he does act badly again, complaints against him would likely arise that the law society could then discipline him for.

That’s not to say that the hearing panel was wrong or that it necessarily has the right to impose such conditions.

But in an ideal world, it would do so. In that way, it would be able to deal with the concerns while giving someone a second chance. That’s not often the way the world works, but surely it’s a better option.

- Glenn Kauth

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