A Kenora lawyer has launched a $7-million lawsuit against the Law Society of Upper Canada, claiming the provincial regulator maliciously prosecuted him.
Since it found the allegations were untrue, the law society publicly acknowledged Keshen’s case exposed systemic problems in its hearing process and appointed a panel to review how it regulates processes that affect indigenous peoples.
But this was not enough for Keshen. The lawyer is now suing the law society for abuse of process, misfeasance in public office, defamation, malicious prosecution and negligence.
He claims the law society’s actions were “malicious, egregious and highhanded” and that the regulator’s conduct “revictimized” and traumatized residential school survivors involved in the proceedings.
“It is conduct not befitting of a public body that this court should condemn and deter in the public interest,” said his statement of claim. The law society started its investigation into Keshen in 2014 in order to look into rumours he had been stealing from his clients. Keshen had exclusively represented indigenous clients since he moved to Kenora, Ont. in 1978.
A former councillor of one of the bands to which Keshan provided legal services started the rumours when the lawyer refused to pay him a share of his fees, according to the statement of claim. That councillor had demanded payment for having facilitated Keshen’s communications with clients in the band.
He then filed a complaint to the law society and also suggested to a number of band members that Keshen had ripped them off.
From there, the rumours spread throughout the community and beyond. Members of the band filed more than 20 complaints years after Keshen’s retainer had ended. Keshen claimed it should have been apparent to LSUC investigators that the source of the rumours was unreliable and that they were in possession of evidence that proved some of the allegations were false.
He said that law society investigators conducted interviews with his clients in an “incompetent and closed-minded” way, asking leading questions that elicited answers consistent with their own theories.
The statement of claim said the law society also solicited further complaints against Keshen by setting up drop-in centres in the area so that Keshen’s clients could come to tell the law society of any problems they had with him. And in doing so, Keshen claimed the law society enlisted the help of an area indigenous political organization that the lawyer’s firm was litigating against on behalf of several bands that were disputing the extent of its authority.
The law society then started proceedings against Keshen before the investigation was complete in what the lawyer said was a premature prosecution. The proceedings went ahead despite his warnings about the dangers of making such allegations public. The law society typically does not make allegations against lawyers public until their proceeding reaches the hearing stage. But as law society prosecutors filed a notice of application before the investigation was complete, that was when the allegations became public.
The law society sent an email out to hundreds of peers in the indigenous bar and potential clients with the notice of application that set out the allegations against Keshen, according to the statement of claim. Keshen said that this was part of a “self‑serving” public relations campaign the law society was engaging in to try to “repair” it’s reputation after media reports came out that it had failed to prosecute lawyers who had exploited Roma clients. The law society eventually withdrew most of the allegations in February of this year and the disciplinary tribunal panel dismissed the rest in the spring.
But, by that time, the investigation and the media attention the case received had effectively ended Keshen’s career and ruined his reputation. Keshen lost almost all his clients, had to leave his firm and has suffered psychological injury from the years-long affair, his claim said.
“The society’s commencement of the conduct proceedings and its attendant public relations campaign, including the mass email, caused irreparable damage to Mr. Keshen’s reputation,” the statement of claim said.
A spokeswoman for the law society declined to comment on Keshen’s statement of claim. Keshen also declined to comment on the lawsuit, but he said the claim has not been served yet to the law society.
Daniel Naymark, one of the lawyers who represented Keshen in the law society proceedings, has said in previous interviews that the accusations hung over Keshen for longer than necessary because of the way the law society publicized the charges. Naymark is not representing Keshen in the civil action and declined to comment for this story.
Keshen is seeking $5 million in special damages, $1 million in general damages, $500,000 for psychological injury and $500,000 for aggravated and punitive damages.