Noting his “solid work” as a lawyer, a Kingston, Ont., sole practitioner who slept with a client he was representing in a family law matter on a joint retainer is battling the Law Society of Upper Canada’s bid to suspend him for six to nine months.
In December, a hearing panel found Jehuda Kaminer to have been in conflict of interest for having sex with a client whose husband he was also representing. The clients, identified only as Mr. M. and Ms. M., had retained the lawyer to complete their divorce in 2006. During that time, Kaminer started a six-week affair with her that included dinners and evenings at the casino.
Kaminer was also representing Mr. M. in relation to criminal charges for sexually exploiting a minor who was living with him and his wife.
Mr. M., a hockey coach, once brought a 14-year-old girl to Kaminer to discuss emancipating her from her parents. A hearing panel found Kaminer disclosed confidential information related to the criminal matter to Ms. M.
At his penalty hearing on March 21, the 65-year-old lawyer lamented the effects of his legal troubles, which he said had stirred “sensational” media coverage, on his income and mental health.
“I used to love going to work. It’s become a lot more harder. Part of that is the devastating effect of this proceeding,” Kaminer told a panel chaired by Raj Anand.
“For a while, I have been losing weight, I have been under stress,” he added, calling the proceedings “absolutely catastrophic.”
Once the case made the headlines, the result was a “crazy decline” in his revenue, Kaminer added.
He also sought compassion from the law society by detailing a series of “bad business decisions” that have caused him to lose his home and savings. “I’m rebuilding my life at the age of 65 without pension plans. It’s all gone. I’m starting again,” he said.
“I can’t afford a suspension,” he added.
“That’s my nightmare right now. I can’t envisage being able to carry on with any suspension.”
Law society’s counsel Lisa Freeman told the panel Kaminer only dwells on the impact of the case on himself and at no point expressed regret for his actions or apologized to his clients.
Kaminer has “absolutely no insight or remorse,” Freeman said.
“He hasn’t shown the panel that he has changed,” she added, noting Kaminer offered no explanation for what led to his actions.
Freeman also noted Kaminer refers to his relationship with Ms. M. as something he “may or may not have had.”
“He attempted to sow the seed of doubt that it didn’t really happen,” she said.
“He actually just minimized the relationship.”
Still, Kaminer called his actions “an understandable error but error nonetheless,” adding that the weight of his difficulties is out of proportion to the mistake he made.
After “waking up” and realizing his relationship with Ms. M. was inappropriate, Kaminer said he cut off all relations with both clients, whose divorce was therefore not complete. Kaminer also faced an accusation of losing his clients’ marriage certificate, which he produced at his sentencing hearing. He attributed the mishap to a filing error.
During his testimony, Kaminer defended his record beyond the case at hand. He described himself as a “fierce advocate” for more than 6,000 clients and a community champion who has served on several hospital boards.
“As a counsel, I think I’ve done some solid work,” said Kaminer.
But in its ruling in December, the hearing panel considered the law society’s submissions on the problematic circumstances surrounding Kaminer’s clients’ case. “We accept that there is no evidence of Ms. M.’s financial or psychological vulnerability, and law society counsel candidly conceded that Ms. M. would not regard herself as vulnerable,” wrote Anand.
“Nevertheless, the law society submitted that her status as a family law litigant in circumstances of separation and divorce, as well as the shocking discovery from the criminal proceedings that her husband had allegedly been having a sexual relationship with their 14-year-old boarder (an allegation that was subsequently proven in criminal court), were sufficient to characterize Ms. M. as vulnerable at the point when she accepted the respondent’s invitation to enter into a personal relationship.
“We accept the reasons put forward by the law society and agree that Ms. M. was emotionally vulnerable to exploitation in the fall of 2006. The nature of the legal services being provided by the lawyer are undoubtedly relevant to the issues of both vulnerability and potential for conflict of interest, and this is particularly true of family law.”
In sharing Mr. M.’s information with Ms. M., Kaminer “clearly violated his duty of loyalty to his client Mr. M., in a manner that in fact adversely affected his judgment on behalf of Mr. M.,” wrote Anand.
The law society didn’t indicate when it would release its penalty decision in Kaminer’s case.
For more, see "Lawyer who had sex with family law client in joint retainer in hot water for disclosure."