Law Times

January 23, 2017

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Page 2 January 23, 2017 • Law Times www.lawtimesnews.com also cause more people to enter guilty pleas early in the process without knowing that plea has secondary consequences. "That's the bigger danger — that if they had worked out a different plea deal or had fought the charges with appropriate de- fence counsel, that would have been the best way to do it," says Ras. LAO's plans also include freezing salaries, lowering ad- ministrative costs by 10 per cent and not filling vacancies where possible. Attorney General Yasir Naq- vi recently announced he will launch an independent review of LAO in light of the deficit. "One of the things they will look at is the cause around that as well as how do we get to bal- ance without cutting services," he says. "From my point of view, and this is where my concern comes in . . . we have seen [an] unprecedented amount of new dollars go in the system. I have questions as to why the deficit exists. I'm not an expert in au- diting or accounting, so let's get experts in." The provincial government has provided an additional $86 million in funding since 2014. Strezos says he welcomes the review, but he hopes it will in- clude an analysis of the delivery of services in addition to an au- dit of the agency's finances. "I call on the Ontario gov- ernment that they do that com- parator, and not just for fiscal reasons," he says. "It's time that we have this important policy discussion as to what the role is of Legal Aid and its interaction with the pri- vate bar, and hopefully come to some equilibrium," he adds. Naqvi says the review will evaluate the agency's forecast- ing methodology and internal governance, as well as its plan to balance its budget. Members of the private bar have voiced concerns that LAO's budgetary woes are the result of hiring too many staff lawyers. The number of staff lawyers employed by the agency has risen to 294 in 2016 from 206 in 2012, according to LAO, which trust account for $6,000, forging Seif 's signature, and deposited it into his bank account, the deci- sion said. Kassam later worked for two other law firms, at which he held himself out "as a lawyer to mem- bers of the public." He took retainers from cli- ents, who thought he was their lawyer, and even appeared in court, presenting himself as counsel. He preyed upon vulnerable people who needed legal help, taking retainers and payments from them under the false im- pression he was their lawyer, the decision said. He also used Seif 's Law Soci- ety of Upper Canada number. Kassam, however, was not charged with impersonating a lawyer under the Law Society Act, which would have brought a penalty of $25,000 for a first offence. One of his victims lost $25,920, but they werre able to recover $10,000, according to the decision. Another lost $6,000 and was able to recover $3,200, and a third lost $8,000. Kassam, who represented himself in the case, requested to defer his sentencing, saying he wished to finish a law degree he claimed he had been studying for at a university in England. He had also claimed to have a law degree from a university in Florida. Boswell remarked that Kas- sam was bright and capable and could have been a competent lawyer if he was not a criminal. "Mr. Kassam's choice of a criminal lifestyle is tragic be- cause, from what I have wit- nessed, had he pursued his career honestly, he could have been a very competent lawyer," Boswell said. Toronto lawyer Lee Akazaki took issue with Boswell's com- ments concerning Kassam's competency, saying they were "not helpful" as they "feed Kas- sam's own mythomania that he is a lawyer but for the formality of an Ontario licence." "It is like saying someone could have been a great doctor if he only cared about helping his patients get better," says Akaza- ki, who was not involved in the case. Akazaki says the statement does not do any favours for the legal profession as it implies that being a lawyer involves a skillset that is somehow severable from duties of honesty and trust. "Everything that we do in- volves not only honesty but up- holding the rule of law and the confidence the public places in us," he says. "It's not just one ingredient of what we do." Kassam also brought a mo- tion for a directed verdict elimi- nating some counts from the charge before trial. Akazaki says this shows Kassam had a belief he could use arguments to get around the facts, and that he had no appreciation for what a law- yer does. "The belief that you can change the facts is something that lawyers should guard against, because the truth at the end of the day is the only thing we have to work with," Akazaki says. The Crown sought a sentence of four to five years for Kassam, but the judge settled on three. Boswell noted Kassam's prior criminal convictions as reasons he serve a prison sentence. In 2004, Kassam was con- victed for fraud over $5,000 and uttering a forged document. In 2005, he was also convicted of multiple counts of fraud. "Mr. Kassam needs to stop defrauding people," Boswell said. "For reasons best known only to him, it would appear to be his preferential means of doing business. Dishonesty appears to have become a way of life for him." Seif declined to comment. LT NEWS declined to provide numbers for the five years before 2012. LAO says the majority of its current staff lawyers are duty counsel who provide direct ser- vices at courthouses and that less than 15 are senior counsel. Anthony Moustacalis, presi- dent of the Criminal Lawyers' Association, says the private bar is more efficient. "Before . . . they would simply decrease the number of certifi- cates and they could meet their financial goals, as unfortunate as that might be," he says. "Now, when they need to pro- vide more certificate services and they run out of money, they can't fire people because they're now in a collective bargaining situation and they don't have a mechanism yet to discharge em- ployees that they don't need." McCamus, however, says the deficit was the result of high demand for new services intro- duced to certificate coverage that were formerly provided by duty counsel. "There were too many of them and they caused a deficit, a major portion of the deficit. So we're moving them back to duty counsel until we can catch up," he says. For example, LAO received a 44-per-cent increase in demand for refugee services in 2016. Since Naqvi announced his review, LAO has rescinded a $1-million cut it had proposed on legal clinics as part of a plan to deal with the deficit. The agency received a com- mitment from MAG that it would provide the $1 million. "Clinic boards and directors would have been making deci- sions in these next few weeks regarding laying off staff," says Lenny Abramowicz, execu- tive director of the Association of Community Legal Clinics of Ontario. While the overall budget for the clinics is approxi- mately $75 million, Abramow- icz says the cut would have had a significant effect on them as they each operate on small bud- gets. A cut could mean reducing staffing and therefore decreas- ing client services, he says. MAG was in the process of retaining an external firm to conduct the review, and Naqvi says the audit will be complete by March 31 and made public shortly after that. LT Continued from page 1 LAO plans to freeze salaries, not fill vacancies Employee gets three-year sentence Continued from page 1 SKIMMING THE SURFACE IS FINE UNTIL A DEEPER DIVE IS REQUIRED. Start with Practical Law Canada. Whether you need a surface view or a deeper understanding of a legal issue, Practical Law Canada offers up-to-date, straightforward how-to guides, annotated standard documents, checklists, and more. Our expert lawyer-editors have significant practice experience. They create and maintain hundreds of practical resources to match the needs of practitioners in the following practice areas: • Capital Markets & Securities • Corporate and M&A • Commercial Transactions • Employment • Competition • Finance • Corporate & Commercial Litigation For more information or to sign up for a free trial, visit www.practicallaw.ca © 2016 Thomson Reuters Canada Limited 00242CZ-85651-NK Untitled-1 1 2017-01-10 12:20 PM

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