Lawyer denied licence to practise

A disbarred British Columbia lawyer has been denied a licence to practise in Ontario after a Law Society of Ontario tribunal panel questioned his insight into the behaviour that led to his criminal convictions.

A disbarred British Columbia lawyer has been denied a licence to practise in Ontario after a Law Society of Ontario tribunal panel questioned his insight into the behaviour that led to his criminal convictions.

Malcolm Zoraik’s licence to practise in B.C. was revoked following his 2010 convictions for pubic mischief and fabrication of evidence.

A provincial court judge sentenced Zoraik to 18 months in jail after finding he had forged a letter falsely alleging jury tampering in a case where his client had lost a personal injury trial.

Despite glowing references from colleagues, friends and members of the Somali community in Canada, the unanimous three-person panel in Zoraik v. Law Society of Ontario found he had fallen short of demonstrating that he was currently of good character.

“We acknowledge that Mr. Zoraik has been making efforts to demonstrate that he is a better person. However, he stands convicted of serious crimes going to the heart of the responsibilities of a lawyer,” wrote panel chairman Murray Chitra in his Oct. 12 decision. “We received no explanation for this misconduct.

“The limited reflections offered were self-focused and displayed no obvious insight. The character evidence offered was helpful, but it did not provide us with any assurance that there had been real change on the part of Mr. Zoraik. It did not give us confidence that all necessary steps have been taken to ensure that there would be no recurrence,” Chitra concluded.

According to the decision, Zoraik would not engage with LSO investigators who questioned him about the events that led to his conviction, saying only that his trial record spoke for itself, that he accepted the court’s verdict and that he had “learned my lessons from that.” However, the panel left the door open for Zoraik to have another crack, writing that its decision “does not preclude him from reapplying in the future.”

William Trudell, who acted for Zoraik in the LSO proceedings, says his client was “disappointed” with the result and is considering his options with regard to an appeal. He says Zoraik’s exercise of his right to resist the criminal proceedings against him created a tricky issue for the panel.

Brian Radnoff, a partner in the Toronto office of Lerners LLP, who frequently acts for lawyers facing disciplinary and licensing proceedings but was not involved in the case, says Zoraik always faced an uphill battle due to the close connection between his convictions and his work as a lawyer.

“When you’re charged criminally with an offence that involves dishonesty, particularly in the administration of justice, it’s a very difficult thing to come back from,” he says.

Zoraik arrived in Canada as a refugee from Somalia in 1984. He spent a number of years as a Somali and Arabic interpreter for the Immigration and Refugee Board before his call to the B.C. bar in 2001. His disciplinary record with the province’s law society was unblemished before the 2009 personal injury trial in which a jury sided against Zoraik’s client on the issue of liability in a case arising out of a motor vehicle accident.

According to the LSO decision, a week after the verdict, an envelope was found in the court building, containing a letter apparently from the husband of an anonymous juror in the case, alleging the jury had been tampered with.  

Zoraik denied responsibility in an interview with detectives, and he attempted to use the police file in support of his motion to set aside the jury verdict.

However, the decision says he was subsequently charged after police identified a fingerprint on the envelope as belonging to Zoraik and obtained video of him approaching the counter of the court registry on the day the letter was found there.

Following a 13-day criminal trial in which he pleaded not guilty, Zoraik was convicted of public mischief and fabrication of evidence by B.C. Provincial Court Justice Adrian Brooks, concluding in R. v. Zoraik, 2010 BCPC that his evidence was evasive and lacked credibility.  Zoraik was allowed to serve the first six months of his 18-month sentence under house arrest and the remainder under curfew, and following its completion in 2012, he moved to Ontario to study for a masters at Osgoode Hall Law School.

In the meantime, the Law Society of B.C. disbarred Zoraik in a summary proceeding in 2013, but it was forced to rehear the matter after the province’s appeal court overturned the decision for failing to address certain arguments.  

It wasn’t until April 2018 that the Law Society of B.C. finally revoked Zoraik’s licence, after dismissing the lawyer’s motion to stay proceedings for delay.

Trudell says the drawn-out nature of the proceedings in B.C. also complicated Zoraik’s application for licensing in Ontario, but he says he remains confident that he will achieve his wish at some point.

“The panel left the door open for him to reapply,” he says. “Certainly, they were impressed by the effort he has made to pick himself up.”

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