Library funding a major issue in 2023 LSO Bencher elections
Last week, the Federation of Ontario Law Associations (FOLA) accused the FullStop slate – a collection of candidates running to represent lawyers and paralegals in the 2023 Law Society of Ontario Bencher elections – of misrepresenting its record on law-library funding. The slate responded that the charges were misleading and driven by partisanship.
FOLA’s board of directors released the statement on March 15 in response to the news article posted on the FullStop campaign’s website, “A Note About County Law Libraries.” FullStop’s statement denied allegations it said were circulated by a Good Governance Coalition member that the slate was a threat to the law library system due to its support for across-the-board LSO cuts and view that law library funding should be “offloaded” to the Law Foundation of Ontario. FOLA said its subsequent statement was a “clarification” of FullStop’s record.
“Funding for county and district law libraries is an issue at the forefront of the 2023 bencher election campaign,” said FOLA’s board. “This underscores the importance of these vital practice resources to the legal profession. It also underscores the need to elect benchers that recognize that funding for courthouse libraries is central to the mandate of the Law Society of Ontario to ensure its licensees meet high standards of competency and professional conduct and to facilitate access to legal services for people across Ontario.”
The position that its members are a threat to county law libraries is a “campaign talking point” that was born at last October’s Convocation when Benchers approved the 2023 budget said the FullStop article. Two FullStop members, Chi-Kun Shi and Cheryl Lean, brought a motion to ask the LSO management to provide a draft budget that did not include the 9.3 percent fee increase present in the regular budget. While the motion did not propose eliminating any programs, benchers accused FullStop of threatening library cuts, said the article.
The Shi-Lean motion was one of several attempts at budget-cutting that FOLA’s board said are inherently threatening to county law libraries because they did not specify where the cuts would come from.
At the September-2020 Convocation, benchers Marian Lippa and Geoff Pollock brought a motion proposing that annual licensing fees be reduced by 25 percent for 2021. The motion was tabled. Pollock is part of the FullStop slate running in the bencher election.
When Convocation voted on the 2022 budget the following year, Shi and fellow FullStop Bencher Murray Klippenstein proposed an amendment that Convocation direct the LSO management, in consultation with the audit and finance committee, to develop an alternative budget with a 10-percent reduction in spending. They proposed that the draft budget be presented at Convocation for review before voting on a final budget for 2022. The motion failed.
“The FullStop incumbents have repeatedly voted in favour of blanket, unspecified cuts to the Law Society budget,” said FOLA’s board. “While all licensees would prefer lower annual fees (including members of our board), without specifying where savings are to be found, the reality is that external cost centres like courthouse libraries are going to be among the first cuts.”
FOLA’s board notes that FullStop incumbents have also voted against or abstained from voting on LSO funding for the Legal Information and Resource Network (LiRN), which runs Ontario’s courthouse law libraries. For the approval of the 2021 LiRN budget, FullStop members Jared Brown, Jean-Jacques Desgranges, Cheryl Lean, Cecil Lyon, and Trevor Robert Parry abstained. The following year, Brown and FullStop member John Fagan voted against approving the 2022 LiRN budget. Fagan is not among the candidates for the 2023 elections listed on FullStop’s website.
Bencher candidate and FullStop spokesperson Lisa Bildy says there is a range of views among her slate on funding for LiRN and that half the slate’s candidates were not benchers during the last term.
“Most of the members of the FullStop slate support LiRN funding, but some also question whether they should be funded every year at whatever level they seek. As with all aspects of the budget, prudent managers ensure that resources are being utilized appropriately.”
Another point of contention between FullStop and FOLA is the slate’s record and position on the LFO of Ontario’s responsibility to fund LiRN.
FOLA said FullStop incumbents have advocated that the LFO fund LiRN, including in a November 2021 motion directing the LSO’s appointees to the LFO Board of Directors to “ensure that the LFO forthwith recommences funding the establishment, maintenance, and operation of law libraries in Ontario.” Former FullStop member Sam Goldstein and current member Cecil Lyon brought the motion, and 14 members voted in favour.
The LFO is “not a realistic or sustainable funding source” and is outside the control of the LSO, “effectively placing the fate of libraries in the hands of third parties,” said FOLA’s board.
Bildy notes that the LFO used to help fund the law library system for at least $500,000 annually but has not done so for the last decade.
“That’s more than $5 million of library funding that has just evaporated,” she says. “The LSO Act obligates the LFO to at least consider contributing to the annual funding for law libraries using money that comes from the interest accrued on lawyers’ trust accounts. In 2021 Convocation refused to pass a Slate motion urging the LFO to support law libraries.”
“No one suggests that funding for libraries should be entirely offloaded to the LFO, as [FOLA Chair] Douglas Judson misleadingly alleges, or that libraries should necessarily suffer cuts. Some benchers were simply looking to tap into other resources before turning to the membership to cover the costs with their dues.”
In criticizing the FullStop slate, Bildy adds that Judson is not a “neutral observer” of the election but endorses the Good Governance Coalition.
“He and his law partner have aggressively attacked the slate online and even sought to have one of our candidates fired from his job as a university professor after grossly misrepresenting his comment,” she says. “This is the censorious, bullying culture that has come to be expected from members and supporters of the big governance coalition he endorses, and others in the legal establishment who have allowed vested interests to control the law society for far too long.”
“FOLA may also want to consider whether it is being properly represented by these sorts of tactics. Note that its (Twitter) account has been used to join in the attacks.”
When asked to comment on these claims, Douglas Judson said he would not “dignify these personal attacks with a response.”
“This isn’t about me. This is about clarifying FullStop’s record and position on courthouse library funding. They could have done that in response to FOLA’s concerns last week. Instead, they have only raised more questions about their commitment to our libraries.
“To be clear, FOLA has not endorsed any candidates,” he says. “We are giving all candidates in this bencher election a fair shake. But if FullStop’s version of that requires that individual leaders in our organization or any law association not question or criticize their candidates, then they’re running for elected office in the wrong profession. Candidates should be able to answer for their record, their views, and their position on the issues.”