Monday, May 17, 2010

Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP has found itself the victim of a cheque-fraud scam south of the border.

Lisa Martineau, chief financial officer at the firm, says she began getting calls a few weeks ago from real estate and law offices, mostly in the United States, that had come across fraudulent cheques bearing the Cassels Brock logo. 

“It’s not a very good copy of our cheque,” says Martineau. “But in the interests of preventing anyone from falling for this scheme that is going on, we put an alert out so that people would immediately know there is an issue there.”

Martineau says most cases involve an individual who contacts the real estate agent by e-mail and arranges to purchase a property without a face-to-face meeting.

The bogus Cassels Brock cheque then arrives for an amount significantly higher than the deposit requires with a note to send the excess funds to a furniture company to furnish the home.

“They’re hoping someone will deposit the funds and cut a cheque to them for the balance,” Martineau says, adding nobody has fallen for the scheme to her knowledge.

“They’re preying on the U.S. market, with realtors so hungry for business.”
Martineau says the firm has recorded instances in Virginia and Colorado as well as one in Windsor, Ont.

She notes each incident is reported to Toronto police and the localforce where the cheque is received, but so far they have turned upnothing. Toronto police Const. Elisa Brooker says because theinvestigation is ongoing, she can’t comment on it.

Martineausays the names on the suspect e-mails, none of which have anyconnection to the firm, have been consistent and warns anyone hearingfrom Dr. Takeuchi Keigo, Mr. Wakabayashi Hisaki, Mr. Ming Xing, Mr.Peter Smith, Andrew St. Clair, Dr. Soho Yakamushi, Charles Francis orIbrahim Tanko to be on guard.

“These people are playing on the Internet, so why it’s our firm today and another firm tomorrow, I have no idea,” Martineau says.

The disciplinary hearings against two Torys LLP lawyers plunged even further into uncertainty on Monday when one of the defence lawyers became ill just hours before the latest session was to begin.

Phil Campbell, who represents Beth DeMerchant, told the panel headed by Ottawa lawyer William Simpson that he received an email from Ian Smith, counsel for Darren Sukonick, at 4 a.m. on Monday saying he had spent the night in hospital and was uncertain when he would be able to return but that it would take “at least a day.”

Neither Sukonick nor DeMerchant were present for the hearing as Campbell and Paul Stern, counsel for the Law Society of Upper Canada, discussed progress with their attempts to gain solicitor-client privilege waivers in an attempt to keep the hearings open to the public.

Campbell revealed a further setback when he said counsel for one key client had retracted an earlier waiver and complications had arisen with others.

Megan Keenberg, who represents Hollinger Inc., appeared before the panel last week after consulting with the company’s litigation trustee to say her client would waive its privilege in the matters relevant to the hearing.

“Her waiver was premature,” Campbell said on Monday, adding new concerns were identified when she consulted the firm’s chief restructuring officer.

The Vancouver-based counsel for Hollinger Canadian Newspapers LP has indicated it could take him one or two weeks before he can get an answer from his client, according to Campbell.

And Ravelston Corp. Ltd., a holding company once controlled by Conrad Black, is “the one where we are farthest from resolution,” Campbell said. Ravelston has caused problems because of the struggle to identify an authority for waiving privilege.

The company went into receivership in 2005, and Campbell and Stern have both tried to reach an agreement with counsel for the receiver.

Campbell said negotiations with Hollinger International had produced a letter “tantamount” to waiver, while Black has already explicitly refused to waive his privilege.

The waivers would minimize the need for in camera sessions of the hearing after a motion last week by Stern to proceed in secret because of the pervasiveness of privileged material throughout the case.

However, Simpson stressed the panel has yet to rule on the motion. The law society could also order a publication ban on portions of the hearings dealing with privileged material.

The hearings have been plagued by problems since the hearing began, when Stern discovered 168 boxes were missing in disclosures from Torys to his team. By Wednesday, half of the 24 days initially scheduled for the hearing will have passed with the panel only having heard part of the law society’s opening remarks.

Barring any further developments, the panel will reconvene on Wednesday, when Stern is expected to conclude his opening remarks.

Three Law Society of Upper Canada benchers will be on the ballot to be the next LSUC treasurer.

Nominations closed Thursday, and a secret ballot by elected benchers at Convocation on June 29 will include Laurie Pawlitza, Beth Symes, and William Simpson. Whoever wins will replace current Treasurer Derry Millar.


Brenda Hollingsworth, a partner at Ottawa’s Auger Hollingsworth, has been named the Women’s Business Network of Ottawa’s Businesswoman of the Year for 2009 in the professional category.

Hollingsworth, a personal injury lawyer who owns the firm with her husband Richard Auger, received the award at a gala on April 29.

“A dozen years ago, when I was a young lawyer thinking about how I would manage having kids and my career, I was discouraged,” Hollingsworth said.

“With a lot of support and encouragement from my husband, a decade later I am telling a different story, one where a very rewarding and full family life is compatible not only with a busy law practice but also with business ownership.”
Toronto-based international law firm Amsterdam & Peroff LLP has announced its latest client: former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The firm will assist the former prime minister in his attempt to boost his Red Shirt supporters, who are staging demonstrations in Bangkok, the country’s capital.

“It is our intention to explore every legal avenue to assist this pro-democracy movement and urge the international community not to tolerate the government’s violent crackdown on peaceful protesters,” said founding partner Robert Amsterdam.

Thaksin was ousted from power in a military coup in 2006 amid allegations of abuse of power and corruption.

The Law Society of Upper Canada has announced the 10 winners of this year’s Law Society Medal, the Lincoln Alexander Award, and the Laura Legge Award.

LSUC Treasurer Derry Millar will present the prizes at a special ceremony at Osgoode Hall on June 17.
This year’s Law Society Medal recipients are: Mary Elizabeth Atcheson, R. Douglas Elliott, Robert W. Hubbard, Horace Krever, M. Virginia MacLean, Terrence O’Sullivan, John M. Rosen, and Harvey T. Strosberg.

The Lincoln Alexander Award, presented to an Ontario lawyer who has demonstrated a commitment to the public and its well-being through community service, goes to Aly N. Alibhai.

The Laura Legge Award, for a female lawyer who has exemplified leadership within the profession, will be presented to Crocetta Gruppuso.

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