Scam/Spam Legal Awards: Lawyers and Clients Be Aware

BarristerThis post is directed to both lawyers and clients who wonder whether the “Awards” boasted by their favourite law firm or lawyer are legitimate or whether they are “scam”, ego, or pay-to-play awards.

One good example is found in the email I received today:

“FINANCE MONTHLY is pleased to inform you that you have made the shortlist for the 2018 Law Awards.
You have been shortlisted in the category of:

Family Lawyer of the Year
Canada

Winners will be notified the week commencing 8th January 2018′

Last week I was told that “CorporateLiveWire” was considering me for a leading arbitrator award in Canada….yeah, right!

My first reaction was that these were not legitimate lawyer ranking services and a quick online search confirmed I was correct. But how is a client to know whether the awards touted by lawyers are fake or real. Often a look at the criteria for selection tells a lot. For example, the “Top Choice” awards require:

“Each Nominee must be in business for a minimum of 2 years

Each Nominee must conduct fair business practices

Each Nominee should have an acceptable clean and neat exterior and interior image location – what a business portrays to their “walk in” customers is fairly important.

Each Nominee is in need of an acceptable online image – websites should be easy to understand and navigate while still maintaining a pleasant image.

Each Nominee must have online reviews, with a minimum of 75% positive online business reviews and a maximum of 25% negative online business reviews.

Each Nominee must have one or more acceptable social media outlet presence (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, LinkedIn)

Each nominee must have a minimum of 25 nominations”

The Top Choice website entices consumers with the following:

“Entering its 11th year, the Top Choice Awards Gala is a premiere event, often referred to by guests as the “Oscars” for business.”

In June 2016 the Better Business Bureau warned:

“Better Business Bureau Warns Groups Not to Fall for Vanity Scam

Better Business Bureau serving the Northwest has received numerous reports of an email scam targeting small businesses across the country. In the past 24 days BBB Scam Tracker has received 23 reports from potential victims in the Northwest region. This ploy is known as the vanity award scheme —one we’ve reported on in the past.

The email informs small businesses and nonprofits they are a recipient of a “Best of (insert city name) Award.” But in order to claim their trophy, they have to pay up. Business owners report being asked to pay anywhere from $149 to $229 to claim the honor and receive a personalized plaque.”

Yes, there are some valid lawyer ranking services including “Best Lawyers”, “Lexpert”, “Superlawyers” (US only) “Benchmark Litigation”, “Chambers”, “Leading Lawyers”, and “Martindale Hubbell”, however, many of the other companies exist simply to sell advertising in magazines or plaques touting the “winner’s” name. Other’s will publish your legal articles, if you pay them to do that. Not unlike lawyers who do radio or television shows but have to pay to appear. That’s right, they don’t get paid, they pay the producer of the show to appear on the show.

I remember being asked to appear on Judge Harvey Brownstone’s Canadian television show, an offer I declined once I learned they wanted me to pay him to appear.

For those interested, a good site to check out is “Who Hates Spammy Lawyer Awards?”, the brainchild of law firm website designer, Igor Ilyinsky who ranks lawyers’ awards as “Reputable, Not Reputable, Pure Spam”.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

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Wife Returns $1 Million Dollar Cheque to Husband and Seeks Monthly Support

GeorgiaLeeLang057When couples separate one of the first legal issues to consider is whether one spouse should pay the other interim spousal support. Interim spousal support is support intended to ensure that the lower income, or non-income earning spouse has sufficient income to support her or himself until matters are finalized, either though settlement or at trial.

In an unusual case out of Ontario, Bridge v. Laurence, 2017 ONSC 7417, Mr. Laurence presented his separated spouse with a cheque for $1 million dollars, after their 30-year marriage ended.

The parties had been in mediation and he asserted that he and his wife had concluded an agreement whereby she would receive 49.9% of the shares of his very successful company, which included 18% of shares she already owned. He then declared a dividend in her favour of $1 million dollars. He would also receive a similar dividend. Earlier the parties had each received nearly $1 million dollars in the division of other family property. On this basis he concluded that his wife would not require interim support as she would have sufficient funds to support herself.

Ms. Bridge initially advised the mediator that she agreed “generally” to her husband’s proposal, but shortly thereafter changed her mind, after she consulted her lawyer. She sent the cheque back to her husband and said that since she only owned 18% of the company, she was entitled to a dividend of $360,000 and no more, since she was not willing to give up spousal support.

Mr. Laurence, however, refused to provide her with a cheque for $360,000 leading to a stalemate that required court intervention.

The Court was not amused by either husband or wife, mildly scolding them for failing to collaborate to ensure efficient and cost-effective litigation, with consequential “litigation gridlock”. Mr. Laurence was also criticized for filing material “without limit”, demanding irrelevant disclosure from his wife, and “stubbornly refusing” to reciprocate in the disclosure department. In a final shot, the Court noted that Ms. Bridge had refused payment, but foolishly expended over $200,000 on legal fees:

“The parties seem determined to pay their lawyers to fight about almost every aspect of issues that should have been resolvable well before now.”

Ms. Bridge earned a law degree but had retrained and worked as a school teacher earning $111,000 per year. In the two preceding years her husband’s company earned $1 million dollars in annual income. The Court held that:

“Need is relative. Interim spousal support is intended to preserve the accustomed lifestyle of the support recipient pending the trial. Both parties live frugally despite their wealth. As a consequence, the evidence does not show that the applicant has accumulated significant debt since separation. Nor has she been required to significantly liquidate her assets. On the other hand, during the same period, the respondent has continued to accumulate wealth.”

Ultimately, the Court ordered Mr. Laurence to pay a dividend of $360,000 to his wife and to pay himself a $1 million dollar dividend, if he so chose. The remaining dividend of $640,000 would be held in escrow pending the trial or settlement of the family dispute. In addition, Ms. Bridge would receive $300,000 in lump sum interim spousal support, payable in 90 days, an amount easily payable by Mr. Laurence from his dividend cheque or other funds.

Ms. Bridge’s claim for $12,544 a month in interim spousal support and $350,891.00 in retroactive support was dismissed.

This is yet another case where money, energy, and time is wasted which could be better spent working with a tax specialist/accountant to craft a division of corporate property beneficial to both parties, accompanied by a determination of the income status of each party after the pie is divided. Only then can there be a proper analysis of the need or not, for spousal support.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

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High-Stakes Litigation Results in Costs Award of $1.4 Million to Wife

BarristerIt wasn’t that long ago that family law was considered the “poor sister” of commercial and corporate litigation, labelled “pink collar” law and considered a less worthy pursuit than other areas of the law. Happily that characterization has been abandoned for some time and rightly so.

Cases like Blatherwick v. Blatherwick 2017 ONSC 3968 (Canlii) and many others like it, point to the reality that family law embraces complex legal concepts including corporate valuations, off-shore assets with jurisdictional issues, and complicated income analysis, to name just a few.

When you have family litigation where the wealthy spouse refuses to provide information and documents, lies and evades the truth, and enlists business partners to assist in the obfuscation, it is not unusual to see large costs awards levied against the fraudulent litigant. Blatherwick is a perfect example of such a case.

Where there has been “reprehensible, scandalous, or outrageous conduct on the part of one of the parties”, the successful party will be awarded “special costs”, which represent the actual legal fees he or she has paid to his or her lawyer. In Blatherwick the successful wife was awarded $1,461,000 in circumstances where the husband made a mockery of fair play after a marriage lasting 39 years.

Mr. Blatherwick’s litigation “sins” were numerous including:

1. His admission that his business partners formed a “brotherhood of trust” and would circle the wagons in the case of any matrimonial dispute;

2. His admission that he was a liar and a cheat and that his business was conducted with those values;

3. His admission that his business was conducted in China and the British Virgin Islands and that the few documents produced were utterly unreliable.

4. His ever-changing evidence, despite previous admissions being made under oath;

5. His flagrant and deliberate disregard of court orders, in particular an order that restrained him from depleting his assets. However, the court found that in breach of the order he paid his lawyers over $800,000;

6. He failed to pay interim support to his wife and was in arrears of over $500,000;

7. He gave over $900,000 to several girlfriends in the Philipines and also made fraudulent Canadian immigration applications on their behalf, telling the authorities that his wife was deceased, and on another occasion that he was not married.

8. He made a voluntary assignment into bankruptcy such that his trustee seized and sold all his Canadian assets. He valued his off-shore companies at one dollar, despite evidence of $42 million dollars in annual sales;

In lengthy Reasons the Court held that Mrs. Blatherwick, in her early 60’s, was entitled to lump sum support in the amount of $5,985,216 based on an imputed income to her husband of $1.4 million dollars. Notably, his Canadian tax returns recorded income of about $48,000 per annum. She was also awarded compensation for her interest in the family assets in the amount of $3,573,807.

The Court annulled Mr. Blatherwick’s bankruptcy and scheduled a hearing to determine if his lawyers should be held in contempt of court for receiving funds from their client while he was under a restraining order.

The question remains, however, in the face of Mr. Blatherwick’s litigation behaviour, whether his wife will actually receive the funds she is owed. With her husband living in the Phillipines, and all his valuable assets located off shore, it seems highly unlikely that collecting her award will be a simple task. Although his Canadian passport was seized by Family Maintenance Enforcement authorities, it is very likely he has acquired a Phillipines passport.

These are extremely difficult cases and often the Court’s findings and orders are hollow, in the absence of compliance from a spouse who has already proved to be a rogue.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

How to Ensure Your Family Court Judge Will Rule Against You….

GeorgiaLeeLang025Family law is incredibly emotional, particularly when it comes to parenting and children’s issues. But there are basic “rookie” mistakes that well-meaning moms and dads make, despite their valiant efforts to present themselves as good parents focused on their children’s best interests.

One of those mistakes is surreptitiously recording your children or your separated spouse.

So many Canadian judges have criticized this practice that it is almost trite law that it should be avoided. For example, Ontario Justice Pazaratz says in Whidden v. Ellwood, 2016 ONSC 6938

“Parents shouldn’t surreptitiously audio record their children. It’s a breach of trust; an abuse of access; and a cheap manipulation of an innocent child. Sheidaei-Gandovani v. Makramati, 2014 ONCJ 82 (CanLII), 2014 ONCJ 82 (OCJ); Hameed v. Hameed, 2006 ONCJ 274 (CanLII), 2006 ONCJ 274 (OCJ); Jackson v. Mayerle, 2016 ONSC 72 (CanLII), 2016 ONSC 72 (SCJ)”.

A British Columbia judge wrote:

“I am of the opinion that it is not desirable to encourage the surreptitious recording of household conversations, particular so when it is done in the family home and the conversations are between family members. This is an odious practice.” (Seddon v. Seddon 1994 BCSC 1062)

The rationale for filming your child during a parenting exchange time is usually done to show one of the following behaviours:

a) The child’s unwillingness to go to the other parent;
b) The child’s eagerness to go to the other parent;
c) The opportunity to present evidence of the other parent’s nastiness, bad language, late arrival, abusive behaviour, etc.

Yes, you will find judges who will admit audio/video recordings into evidence, but the general consensus is that they are rarely useful or necessary for a judge to determine how to determine custody or divide parenting time between parents.

Why do judges dislike audio or video recordings? Because:

a) Parents use recordings to make the other parent look bad, but more often then not it backfires, causing the Court to doubt the judgment of the recording parent;

b) Recording your child or spouse raises doubts about how a fit parent could be so insensitive as to place an innocent child in the middle of an inflammatory situation;

c) The clear message to the child is “Look how bad your mother/father is, so much so that I have to record him/her”.

And yet, clients will continue to ignore the good advice they receive from their lawyers and smartphones will continue to be a part of a warring parent’s arsenal…sad but true.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Courtrooms Flooded with Litigants With No Lawyers

GEO CASUALIt’s not getting any easier to be a judge these days, as self-represented litigants continue to overwhelm Canadian courts in increasing numbers.

With the abolition of Legal Aid and a middle-class that can’t afford to hire lawyers, the situation has become dire.

University of Windsor law professor Julie MacFarlane’s research indicates that up to 80% of court users in family law go into court without a lawyer.

The popular cliché that people who represent themselves in court have fools for clients has never been more true, and despite the increasing availability of pro bono legal services, rarely does free legal advice mean that a lawyer will show up in court.

While it is lawyers that have the reputation for talking too much and wasting court time, the truth is that court cases with lay litigants take up many more court hours because rules of evidence and procedure, while somewhat relaxed for in-person litigants, must still be maintained to ensure due process and the integrity of our justice system.

In a recent court case, with no counsel, where the issue was whether a Pakistani divorce was authentic and legitimate, one judge said:

“I record that I began this case at 10.30 a.m. this morning and I am now concluding it around 3.30 p.m. It has, accordingly, effectively occupied the whole of the court day. By sheer good fortune, the other case which had been listed for hearing by me today was vacated [postponed] yesterday for reasons connected with its readiness. If that case had not been vacated, I, and the litigants in that case, would have been faced with very considerable difficulties and a severe shortage of court time, and probably also additional expenditure to the parties in that case who, as likely as not, would have to have returned on another day.”

The judge found that the divorce was valid, but was justice really served when he noted that he did not have any basic materials, no orderly bundle of relevant documents, no chronology, no case summaries, and no real argument.

Professor MacFarlane’s observation that “it’s the inmates who are running the asylum” is sadly apropos.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

The Difficulty of Ridding Your Case of a “Seized” Judge.

GeorgiaLeeLang100It is not unusual, especially in family law cases, to have a judge conclude a hearing with the phrase “I will seize myself of this case”. What that means is that the judge has decided that it is reasonable, necessary, or simply prudent for him or her to hear all future court applications regarding the case.

Often this is good news to the parties and their lawyers, but other times it is a fate that is not welcomed.

Madam Justice Martinson in AA v. SNA 2009 BCSC 387 explained the rationale behind a judge seizing herself of a case:

“[77] It is imperative in high conflict family cases generally, and certainly in cases involving allegations of alienation like this one, that one member of the Court take charge of the case. Having a single judge hear cases is required by s. 14 of the Supreme Court Act:

(1) All proceedings in the court and all business arising from those proceedings, if practicable and convenient, must be heard, determined and disposed of before a single judge.

(2) All proceedings subsequent to the hearing or trial including the final order, except as otherwise provided, and on a rehearing must, if practicable and convenient, be before the judge before whom the trial or hearing took place.

[78] The reasons for doing so for all cases are obvious. The judge will be familiar with the case so the litigants do not have to explain the situation over and over again. It avoids “judge shopping” to try to get a better result. It prevents inconsistent approaches. It saves legal and other costs. There will be times in dealing with some cases when it is not convenient or practical to do so.”

In cases like the latter, judges often seize themselves with the proviso that if the matter is urgent and they are not readily available, then another judge can hear the case.

But often one party, usually the party who consistently “loses”, alleges bias and seeks to rid the case of the seized judge. Recently, the British Columbia Court of Appeal in NRG v. GRG 2017 BCCA 407 weighed in on this topic saying:

“There is much wisdom in Madam Justice Martinson’s observation that a family unit may benefit from a judge seizing him or herself of a case. That does not mean, however, that the seized judge should remain seized to the last application filed. The very fact the judge is seized of the case increases the opportunity to develop an impermissible point of view about the case or the parties, and emphasizes the vital requirement of assiduous objectivity. All trial judges will know there may come a time in the conduct of a case when the judge says, “I have done my best and should pass this to fresh eyes.” In our respectful view, this may be such a time.”

The Appeal Court noted that while the appellant sought an order from the appellate panel reversing the Supreme Court judge’s “seizure” proclamation, the Court observed they lacked jurisdiction to overturn the seizure, not wishing to interfere with the lower court’s process, and also did not characterize it as an order of the court. They suggested that a litigant must appear before the seized judge or the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to obtain such a direction.

Frequently, a complaint against a judge who has seized himself is accompanied by an application requesting a judge to remove himself from a case based on a reasonable apprehension of bias, another application that must go before the judge in question and is most commonly dismissed.

I remember a case many years ago where I drew what I believed to be an “unfavourable” judge and convinced opposing counsel to adjourn the case so that settlement discussions could ensue. When we advised the court we were adjourning by consent, the clever judge declared that he would be seized of the case, despite hearing no evidence at all. It was clear he figured out that the adjournment was an escape from his courtroom…and he was right!

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Toronto Lawyer’s $2 Million Dollar Fraud Conviction Upheld

GEO#1Yesterday the Ontario Court of Appeal dismissed Toronto corporate lawyer, Remy Boghossian’s appeal from his 2015 conviction for an almost $2 million dollar fraud on the Royal Bank of Canada. (R. v. Boghossian, 2017 ONCA 870 CanLII)

The scam involved Mr. Boghossian and two co-accused acquiring a forged TD Canada Trust bank draft for $1,895,751 in February 2011 from an unidentified bank insider at the Mississauga branch of the TD bank. The funds were then deposited into Mr. Boghossian’s trust account, whereafter he purchased, in two separate transactions, Australian-minted gold bullion from a company in Montreal.

Mr. Boghossian’s lawyer argued that his client purchased the gold on behalf of a client, Omar Ali, who was a real estate developer going through a divorce who wanted to hide the money from his wife. He asserted that his client was a victim of the scam and had been duped into participating. The trial judge found that Mr. Ali did not exist and was created to advance the fraud. He held that a strong circumstantial case had been established and that the three accused acted together to knowingly defraud the Royal Bank by presenting a forged TD bank draft.

The court heard that Boghossian’s two accomplices tried to sell some of the gold bars, but a wary gold dealer recognized the “kangaroo” logo on the bars and contacted the police.

What remains a mystery is who the insider at the TD Bank is and where the gold bars are now. Media reports indicate that the police have discontinued their investigation of these two matters.

Mr. Boghossian also appealed his 3 1/2 year sentence, arguing that as his co-accused only received 3 years each, his sentence should be reduced to three years. The Court of Appeal dismissed the sentence appeal saying:

“In our view, the extra six months awarded the appellant does not raise parity concerns. The appellant was a lawyer. His status as a lawyer and the role his status as a lawyer played in the commission of the offence justified treating this as an aggravating factor, warranting a somewhat higher sentence for the appellant. We see no error in the sentence imposed.”

It is expected that the Law Society of Ontario will disbar Mr. Boghossian.

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