Law Times

February 1, 2010

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McKELLAR STRUCTURED SETTLEMENTS Billions of dollars invested, not a penny lost. 1-800-265-8381 $3.55 • Vol. 21, No. 4 cKellar_LT_Jan18_09 1 1/11/10 1:02:38 PM Covering Ontario's Legal Scene Online comments spark messy litigation Prominent lawyer identified as anonymous poster on web forum BY TIM SHUFELT Law Times A frequent contributor to lawbuzz. ca, a web site that shut down after it was hit with a defamation suit, is identifying himself as a prominent York Region lawyer and is speaking out against the site's owners for naming names in an ongoing libel case. Russell Howe, a personal injury lawyer in Aurora, Ont., and former president of the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association, faces addi- tional libel litigation for comments he made on Lawbuzz, an online discussion forum. He allegedly posted under the moniker Lawdog and is named in a statement of claim as John Doe #1. The initial lawsuit for statements on Lawbuzz that were potentially defamatory was settled out of court when AdviceScene, another legal web site, came to an agreement with the owner of Lawbuzz. According to a corporate profile search, Lawbuzz's address is the same as that of the Toronto office of ZSA Legal Recruitment. But Samantha Leach, ZSA's chief operating officer, says Lawbuzz operates independently through the work of volunteers. In the no-cost settlement, Law Buzz Canada Ltd. agreed to post an apology and identify four of its registered members to the plaintiff. "Is there a principle they could have fol- lowed that if they offered anonymity, they 'Somehow, they came to the conclusion I was talking about them. I wasn't,' says Russell Howe. should have stuck up for the contributors? That would have been nice," Howe tells Law Times. However, he adds that any protection would have been inconsequential for him as he never really tried to remain anonymous on Lawbuzz. He occasionally signed his postings with his first name while at other times attaching his e-mail address or referring to cases he had acted on. In addition, he claims he never made any libellous comments about AdviceScene or its founder, Nancy Kinney. The Victoria, B.C.-based site connects members of the public with free legal advice and information from lawyers themselves. In March 2009, a discussion thread on disparaging and untrue Lawbuzz made comments about AdviceScene, its model, approach, and legitimacy, Kinney alleges. According to the statement of claim against Lawbuzz, comments made by four contributors called the web site a "scam" and compared it to viral marketing. They also allegedly said AdviceScene was impersonating a judge who contributes to the web site and was in violation of law soci- ety regulations, Kinney claims. Kinney notes she initially thought the Lawbuzz members were mostly law students only to discover later that they included senior lawyers. "I thought, 'What's this going to do for my chances to get lawyers to join my site?'" The key to AdviceScene's business model, Kinney explains, is the participation of expe- rienced lawyers, the same kind of profession- als she says were unfairly criticizing her site. "[Having] people with a lot of influence saying, 'Don't go on that site,' I think that See Suit, page 4 Cassels case reads like blockbuster script BY TIM NAUMETZ For Law Times OTTAWA — The statement of claim in what is purportedly the biggest legal conflict of interest claim in Canada's history reads like a script from a blockbuster movie. The country is on the precipice of economic meltdown. The fis- cal outlook is so desperate that a prime minister who fought against big government his entire adult life decides to spend billions of dollars of public money saving the heart of the nation's industrial output — the auto sector. A deal is closing behind board- room doors. But in exchange for a life-saving infusion of cash, the government insists — and the auto giants agree — that the manufacturers must sacrifice hundreds of their auto dealer- ships from coast to coast. As the deadline looms, one of the giants gives more than 200 deal- ers a six-day deadline to respond to an ultimatum agreeing to close their operations in return for a series of "wind-down payments" or risk losing everything in a gigantic bankruptcy. An association repre- senting the dealers convinces most of them to throw thousands of dol- lars each into a legal fund to retain counsel from one of the biggest law firms in the country. But tragically, as the final hours the dealers, tick by, including some of the most respected lead- ers in their communities, many of them in business for one or two generations, don't get the legal advice they need, according to the statement of claim. Most of them sign away their future under contract requirements that leave many holding nothing but empty buildings by the end of the year, the statement of claim says. Some allege they don't have enough money to cover severance obligations to their employees. As well, after the dealers take down their sales signs and clear out their lots while selling cars and trucks at bargain-basement prices, more devastating news emerges that allegedly puts salt in the wound. The law firm the government had retained was also the same firm the Canadian Automobile Dealers Association was using to advise the dealers, the statement of claim says. But, as one of the country's leading experts on legal conflicts of interest cautions, that is only one side of the story. The other side has yet to emerge, and, of course, none of the allegations have been proven in court "This is what the plaintiff says," Simon Chester, a senior partner at Heenan Blaikie LLP, tells Law Times. "It is perfectly possible that [the law firm] has a wonderful and coherent explana- tion that will satisfy the judge." There is no question the $750-million class action lawsuit launched earlier this month by Trillium Motor World Ltd. against General Motors of Canada Ltd. and Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP, along with two of the firm's See Dealers, page 4 From Marriage Contracts To Divorce Judgments and Everything in Between Visit today! February 1, 2010 DMOne lug_LT.Feb.09.indd 1 1/29/09 3:17:39 PM Inside This Issue 3 Boycott Ends 7 Judicial Retirement 8 Focus On Family Law/ Trusts & Estates Quote of the week "It looks like the minister wants to try and help, but he's not prepared to put his money where his mouth is. That's the major problem." — Joel Skapinker, Skapinker & Shapiro LLP, See Lawyers, page 12 Value your time? Then you'll value our technology! 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