In 2014 Pieter Verbeek, an Ontario lawyer called in 1984, acted for a client in a construction lien matter and in the course of his retainer, contacted a contractor who had failed to pay his client’s bill.
He corresponded with the contractor but on instructions from his client turned the matter over to a collection agency and ignored later telephone calls from the contractor.
Several months later the contractor received collection agency letters, and believing them to be a “sham”, he complained about Mr. Verbeek to the Law Society, alleging fraud and unprofessionalism in failing to return his earlier phone calls.
In April 2015, the Law Society determined they had no jurisdiction to investigate the fraud allegation, but considered Mr. Verbeek’s failure to return calls to the contractor, cautioned Mr. Verbeek about communication obligations, and closed their file.
Mr. Verbeek was upset by the assertion that he participated in a “sham” and in October 2015 filed a lawsuit against the contractor/complainant in Small Claims Court seeking compensation for loss of reputation, defamation and injurious falsehood.
In January 2016 the parties attended an unsuccessful settlement conference in Small Claims Court and Mr. Verbeek was expected to book trial dates. However, he failed to continue with his lawsuit and the suit was dismissed for delay.
In June 2018 the complainant, who had retained counsel to defend him, again complained to the Law Society alleging that due to Mr. Verbeek’s actions he had lost the opportunity to obtain costs in respect of the failed lawsuit.
In January 2020 Mr. Verbeek sent an apology to the complainant and a cheque to cover some of his costs.
The Law Society reprimanded Mr. Verbeek saying:
“Suing the complainant because he complained to the LSO, in our view, may erode public confidence in the legal profession. Such conduct could create a “complaint chill” if members of the public believed making a complaint could put them at risk of retaliatory litigation. It also fails to inspire the confidence, respect and trust of the community and gives an appearance of impropriety. In essence, such conduct does not reflect favourably on the legal profession.”
We’ve all been there…unfounded allegations, indiscreet criticism, but as lawyers, it is necessary to develop a “thick skin”…clients come in all shapes and sizes, some adore their lawyers, others walk away displeased….a sober second thought is required when one thinks that retaliation is an appropriate response to difficulties…
Law Society of Ontario v. Verbeek 2020ONLSTH 52 Canlii