Law Times

April 18, 2011

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lAw Times • April 18, 2011 NEWS LSUC harassing me: lawyer But HRTO declines request for stay based on alleged discrimination BY MICHAEL McKIERNAN Law Times ary proceedings against him dropped after he alleged the Law Society of Upper Canada was harassing and discriminat- ing against him. In an application fi led with A the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, Ravinder Sawhney, a lawyer of South Asian descent, alleged the law society had dis- criminated against him by failing to properly investigate complaints about white lawyers on the other side of the matter that landed him in regulatory trouble. He also claimed the law society harassed him by sending fake clients to his offi ce and using its lawyer referral service to pepper him with tech- nical questions, allegations the LSUC says are groundless. "Th e society is unconscio- nable in its stand that I need and deserve to be disciplined whereas the white lawyers who remain privileged must not be questioned for wrongdoing. Th is is discrimination," Sawh- ney wrote in his application. Sawhney wanted his disci- plinary hearing that was due to start on April 11 stayed, but in an interim decision released on April 5, HRTO vice chair- woman Sherry Liang said the evidence he presented fell well short of the high threshold re- quired for an immediate reme- dy. Instead, she asked both sides for submissions on whether the matter should be deferred until after Sawhney's hearing. "Interim remedies are extraor- dinary in that they constitute an order to do or refrain from do- ing something in the absence of a fi nding that the code has been violated," Liang wrote in the deci- sion, adding she wasn't even sure whether the HRTO had the au- thority to intervene in a case be- fore another administrative body. At the outset of his hearing on April 11, Sawhney, repre- senting himself, returned to the issue of discrimination and urged the law society to stay his hearing until the HRTO can make a fi nal determination. Th at motion was ultimately unsuccessful, and the hearing on the merits of Sawhney's al- leged misconduct is ongoing. Jan Parnega-Welch, counsel for the law society, said Sawhney had produced no evidence to back up his discrimination claims and argued the allegations against the lawyer stand alone regardless of the complaints about colleagues involved in the matter. Sawhney allegedly failed to serve his client in a wrong- ful dismissal action against Telus Communications Co. by spending "unnecessary and excessive amounts of time on legal education and research" and taking inadequate notes of research and client meetings. Th e law society also alleges he Mississauga, Ont., law- yer has failed in an at- tempt to have disciplin- charged fees that were "not fair or reasonable." Th e client com- plained about Sawhney after switching lawyers in 2007. An assessment reduced six accounts rendered by Sawhney, totalling almost $140,000, to $6,500 in early 2008. A Supe- rior Court judge upheld the as- sessment in October 2008. Th e Court of Appeal dismissed a fur- ther challenge of it in April 2009. Sawhney tells Law Times he was simply preparing himself properly for each stage of the ac- tion and never expected his cli- ent to pay his bill. "It was not my expectation ever that the bill was aff ordable to her since the bill was for payment by the billion- dollar company from whom jus- tice was being sought," he says. Instead, he traces the roots of the dispute back to 2005, when he made an application for case management of the Telus matter on the grounds that the lawyer on the other side was being un- co-operative by, for example, ig- noring his communications. He also accused his opponents of sending out documents, includ- ing a counterclaim, without hav- ing them issued by the court. Master Calum MacLeod dis- missed the initial application on June 2, 2005, and rebuked Sawhney for basing his argument on complaints about opposing counsel. "If a party has a serious issue concerning the conduct of a party or of opposing counsel, particularly if there are contested facts, it is not proper to try to ad- dress this in submissions to the court unsupported by an eviden- tiary record," MacLeod wrote. "It is certainly not proper to write a letter to the court accusing the other side of misconduct and ask- ing for case management." Sawhney was eventually suc- cessful in his application for case management but he told the law society hearing panel the deci- sion dealt a serious blow to his credibility with the court and his client and argued the opposing lawyer had misled MacLeod. Sawhney launched a com- plaint of his own about the other lawyer's conduct but he learned three weeks before his own hearing that the investiga- tion had been closed. Further complaints by Sawhney about other opposing lawyers in the case have been dismissed. "Where the integrity of two lawyers is in question, the law society has an obligation to even- handedly investigate and reach a decision," Sawhney told the pan- el. "Th en, after three years, they simply ignore it and say we are only interested in you." In evidence given to the panel, Sawhney also accused the law society of harassing him by bombarding him with calls from fake clients to test his knowledge. Th e investigation against him was paused in 2007 while assessment proceedings were underway but it resumed in the summer of 2009 after the fi nal determination in the According to Sawhney, one family wanted to meet him in person and gave him a grilling on the law in his offi ce. "Th ey started looking and examining what was around my offi ce," he said. "It was obviously someone trying to investigate me. I knew the law society was setting me up and was going to make my life miserable. Nobody else has that vendetta against me." Sawhney claims the calls 'This is discrimination,' Ravinder Sawhney says of disciplinary hear- ings against him while white lawyers allegedly avoid sanction. Court of Appeal. Around the same time, Sawhney claims he began get- ting unusual calls through the law society's lawyer referral ser- vice from people he suspected weren't real potential clients. "In 16 years of practice, I have found callers are typically people in some kind of distress, and they have some issue they want resolved," Sawhney said at the hearing. "Th ese people would ask very technical ques- tions in a lawyer-type way. Th ey were testing me." kept coming for six months, with the volume peaking at the beginning of 2010 at the same time the law society authorized the proceedings against him. He alleges the calls stopped only after he asked the director of the Ontario Lawyers' Assis- tance Program to intervene. But Parnega-Welch told the panel there was no evidence the law society had any involve- ment in the alleged phone calls or visit. "Th e present motion is really another attempt to put off a hearing on the merits, and there is a lengthy history," she said, pointing to numerous ad- journment requests by Sawhney at the pre-hearing stage. SE T A PRECEDENT ELECT MORE BENCHERS WHO REPRESENT THE CHANGING FACE OF THE PROFESSION We need a more diverse convocation that accurately refl ects the range of personal characteristics, backgrounds, professional experiences and challenges faced by all lawyers in this province. I think that I can be a part of that change. In the past, I have worked as a partner with a large law fi rm, crown attorney, and in-house counsel and have served as the President of the Barbra Schlifer Clinic. I currently work as counsel to the Class Proceedings Committee of the Law Foundation of Ontario and serve as a Deputy Small Claims Court Judge and a Director of the Human Rights Legal Support Centre. I have a broad and valuable perspective on the profession and my choices and advocacy demonstrate my sincere commitment to the profession, access to justice, equality, diversity and the retention of women lawyers. The problems faced by the legal profession can only be solved when all voices are heard. Let me speak for you. PAGE 3 PLEASE VISIT MY WEBSITE AT for details about me and my platform and feel free to email me at GINA PAPAGEORGIOU FOR BENCHER GinaP_LT_Apr4_11.indd 1 4/7/11 11:49:09 AM Photo: Michael McKiernan

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