DISBARRED: The Series Part 6 Harry Kopyto

Former Ontario lawyer Harry Kopyto was called to the bar in 1974 after completing his legal education at Osgoode Hall. From the beginning he was a political activist within the socialist movement in Canada and a firebrand for civil rights for prisoners, women, gays and lesbians, the aged, union members and the downtrodden of society.

A large part of his practice entailed actions against the police and crown prosecutors and his reputation grew as someone who would not back done from a fight. In the early 1980′s Kopyto acted for client Ross Dawson, a colleague of Kopyto’s in the League for Socialist Action. Kopyto represented Dawson in several lawsuits against the RCMP, alleging wrongful interference with the League’s acivities and defamation of Dawson.

Dawson lost his lawsuits. Harry Kopyto was incensed as to what he perceived was a “fix”. He contacted a local newspaper who printed his statements about the trial:

“This decision is a mockery of justice. It stinks to high hell. It says its okay to break
the law and you are immune so long as someone above you said to do it. Mr. Dawson
and I have lost faith in the judicial system to render justice. We’re wondering what is
the point in appealing and continuing in this charade of the courts in this country
which are warped in favour of protecting the police. The Courts and the RCMP are
sticking so close together you’d think they were put together by Krazy Glue.”

Kopyto was charged with contempt of court for “scandalizing the court” and faced a fine and a prison sentence of up to six months if he was convicted. Kopyto, with large support from his fellow lawyers and the benefit of a legal defence fund mounted a spirited defence but was convicted and ordered to apologize to the Court or be barred from practicing law in Canada until he did so.

Kopyto appealed and on November 27, 1987 the Ontario Court of Appeal acquitted him finding that the charge against him was unconstitutional. He continued his high profile practice until 1989 when he was charged with professional misconduct by the Ontario Law Society for allegedly overbilling the Province’s legal aid plan by $150,000 over three years.

The irony in the allegations was that legal aid lawyers were notoriously underpaid and much of the work required on a case they were never paid for. Kopyto acknowledged that he may have unintentionally overbilled on some accounts and underbilled on others, but that in the end he did not defraud legal aid. He said “If I wanted to rip off people to make money, I wouldn’t have done legal aid. To say you can rip off Legal Aid is ridiculous.”

The three member disciplinary panel of the Law Society recommended his disbarment and after a vote by the elected members of the Law Society, he ceased practicing law in November of 1989. In an unusual turn of events, one member of the Law Society would not support Kopyto’s disbarment. Lawyer Thomas Carey said that he fundamentally disagreed with the other members and asserted there was no basis for the allegation of fraud noting that the Legal Aid Society did not pursue Kopyto for reimbursement and in fact, paid him further funds they said were owed him.

Kopyto’s appeal in 1993 was unsuccessful but he did not leave the practice of law instead he became a paralegal in Ontario, a profession that at the time was unregulated. He represented hundreds of clients but it was never easy. It was reported that over the years he was excluded from individual courtrooms on at least fifty occasions.

However, those difficulties were minor compared to the problem he faced when Ontario’s paralegals were regulated and included as members of the Law Society. His old nemesis took the position that he was not of sufficient “good character” to be permitted to practice as a paralegal under the new rules.

Kopyto has been engaged in intense litigation with the Law Society to assert his right to continue to practice his profession. Hearings scheduled for September 2010 were cancelled, but his case is far from over. This may yet be the biggest battle of his life. In his words ” I didn’t expect a professional guillotine to fall on my neck, but I will not go gently into the night.”

We wouldn’t expect you to Harry. Good luck.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang



9 thoughts on “DISBARRED: The Series Part 6 Harry Kopyto

  1. Pingback: legal aid | MEDICAL LEGAL

  2. Harry’s courage and people like him influence others in the most powerful ways that don’t need the approval of any body and remind me of what following your heart and spirit can do.

    I haven’t spent enough time on this Blog, Georgia Lee and each time I visit it it reminds me of what conviction is.

    Congratulations on Blog of the Year nominations!!

    P.S. I’d like very much to add this blog to my facebook page so I can share it with friends and family.

  3. Brad I love it when people recognize others with great character and principles and appreciate your similar views on Mr. Kopyto. As a younger lawyer I remember the news reports on Mr. Kopyto and like most others, believed his disbarment could only happen if it was well deserved. I have learned a lot in 22 years of practicing law.

    I would be delighted to have you link my blog to your facebook. Cheers! Georgialee

    • Just watched the news. Finally! Georgia Lee! There’s a judge that knows what a hate crime is. I’d really like to see you post something about it. I have a very close friend that was a witness to what happened and was fairly truamatized by it and subpoened.

      Thanks for your reply.

  4. Pingback: Canada’s #1 legal blog writes about Harry’s crusade against injustice « Harry Kopyto

  5. Mr. Kopyto is a friend and often the only advocate of the homeless, down-trodden and disenfranchised. The Law Society should be commending and not condemning a true hero for justice.

  6. I admired Harry for the length of time I have known him. He is courageous and well educated. He remind me of Mahatma Gandhi each day. I am looking forward for Harry to win this fight and hope LSUC will reveiw USA paralegal system.

  7. Harry doesn’t bend over ,
    The law society hates it when lawyer refuse to bend over .
    Look at the decisions . Steal …..maybe get a suspension.
    Refuse to face north and goodbye license
    We must do something or the little boys club will have no one with any balls

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