Disbarred Lawyer Sentenced to 7 Years by Ontario Court

DSC00507 (2)If you were a lawyer practicing in the 1980’s you may remember the escapades of Ontario lawyers Harry Kopyto and his colleague, Angelina Codina. Harry was a rabble rouser with socialist leanings, a defender of the poor and disadvantaged, who was found in contempt of court for saying publicly that the courts and the RCMP are “stuck together like crazy glue”. Happily for Harry the Ontario Court of Appeal rejected the finding that his statement “scandalized the court”and allowed his appeal.

But Harry’s problems did not end there. In 1989 he was disbarred for fraudulently billing Ontario Legal Aid for $150,000 and he resigned himself to working as a paralegal, a profession that at the time was not regulated.

Kopyto’s bruised reputation was further damaged when his former girlfriend, high-profile immigration lawyer Angie Codina, ran into her own trouble with the law society in 1989. She was convicted of fraud in 2002, related to overbilling Legal Aid and was also disbarred. Ms. Codina continues to raise the ire of the courts in Ontario and New York State.

In a decision handed down this week, R. v. Codina #8, 2018 ONSC 2180 (CanLII), Angelina Codina was sentenced to 7 years in prison for defrauding vulnerable individuals seeking to immigrate to Canada. In once case she counselled her client to lie to immigration officials. Her crimes were committed for financial gain.

While her sentence appears stiff, the court referenced her convictions for similar offences in the State of New York. In 1996 she was charged with 28 counts, including grand larceny, scheming to defraud, and the unlicensed practice of law. She was convicted on 27 counts and sentenced to 9 to 28 years. The convictions were later set aside and after a new trial, she was sentenced to 5 to 15 years. She served 5 years and was deported back to Canada where she carried on her devious work.

The court showed no sympathy to Ms. Codina remarking that “she is a person who preys on vulnerable people”…is “a forceful personality….rarely admits her own mistakes…is fundamentally dishonest… and a revisionist historian.”

She intends to appeal, of course. As for Harry Kopyto, when Ontario passed legislation regulating paralegals he battled vigorously but was found “unfit” to remain in the profession.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

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Guest Post: Canada Can Look to the USA For Expansion of Legal Marijuana

While Canadians are waiting for their federal government to legislate in the area of legal marijuana, the United States is miles ahead….Marijuana legalization could come to twelve more US States in 2018.

Despite strong efforts to maintain the criminalization of marijuana use in the United States, many individuals and lawmakers have taken a step in the direction of legalization over the last several years. Currently, there are 29 states that allow for medical marijuana use, under particular limitations, and a smaller percentage that give residents the ability to use marijuana on a recreational basis under state law. The federal government has been slow to end prohibition of the drug, but recent research shows growing support for legalization on a state level for many reasons.

One of the strongest components of marijuana legalization support revolves around the well-documented success of states that have eliminated prohibition for residents. The states that allow for recreational use of marijuana have systems in place to ensure the tax revenue and economic growth is regulated, mostly through the use of bonding and licensing requirements for dispensaries, growers, and distributors. Based on the positive outcomes legalized states have generated, there are 12 more states considering legalizing marijuana use on some level in 2018.

Michigan: In the state of Michigan, there is a current initiative to gather the 250,000 signatures needed to include a marijuana legalization bill on the ballot in the 2018 election cycle. If approved, the bill would allow for recreational use of the drug for those over the age of 21 who are also residents of the state.

Delaware: In late 2017, a legislative task force was formed in order to analyze the impact marijuana use has on state residents from a recreational standpoint. A bill was shot down in 2017, but the hope is that an opportunity remains in 2018 after the findings of the task force are made public.

New Jersey: With a Democratic-led legislature, New Jersey is poised to legalize the use of marijuana for recreational purposes in 2018. A skyrocketing criminal justice cost along with proven racial injustices in the state are the prime motivators behind passing such legislation this year.

Vermont: A bill legalizing the recreational use of marijuana was approved in Vermont in May 2017, but it was vetoed by the governor at the time. A commission tasked with studying the issues surrounding recreational marijuana use, including health concerns and driving impairment statistics, was created at that time. Based on the results of the commission’s work, legislation is set to pass in Vermont in 2018 allowing adults over the age of 21 to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and cultivation of two mature plants.

Oklahoma: During either the June or November elections, Oklahoma is set to add a bill to the ballot for medical marijuana use legalization for state residents.

Ohio: Lawmakers in Ohio failed to get a bill passed to legalize recreational marijuana use in the last three years, but a ballot proposal is intended to be included during the midterm election cycle this year.

Connecticut: Thanks to local efforts from lawmakers in Harford, Connecticut legislature is set to include a statewide ballot vote for recreational marijuana legalization in November 2018.

Rhode Island: After forming a legislative commission in 2017, Rhode Island may be one of the next states to legalize recreational marijuana use in 2018. The commission sought to research the impacts of the drug on its community, based on neighboring studies in Massachusetts and Maine.

Kentucky: A bill for the legalization of medical marijuana may be on the docket in 2018 for residents of Kentucky. Although there is little support from the current governor, advocates for the drug’s medical use may beat the odds during the midterm election cycle.

Utah: Medical marijuana may be legalized in Utah, following in the footsteps of several other states nearby. The ballot for the midterm elections should include a bill for Utah voters to weigh in on in 2018.

South Dakota: South Dakota may also be close to legalizing medical marijuana, as signatures are currently being gathered for a ballot initiative slated for 2018 election inclusion.

Missouri: Similar to South Dakota, signatures are currently being collected for a medical marijuana bill in Missouri which would allow voters to make the decision in this election cycle.

GUEST AUTHOR:
ERIC WEISBROT is the Chief Marketing Officer of JW Surety Bonds. With years of experience in the surety industry under several different roles within the company, he is also a contributing author to the surety bond blog.

30-Year-Old Son Evicted by Court Order from Parent’s Home

IMG_0311 - Version 2Today a judge in New York ordered “deadbeat” son Michael Rotondo to “get a life” and move out. Rotondo, an unemployed millennial, has taken advantage of his parent’s goodwill for over 8 years with nary a financial contribution to his living expenses. Perhaps he at least pitched in with the family chores? Not a chance!

Media reports indicate that Rotondo was involved in a custody dispute with his young son’s mother and lost all custodial rights. He can apparently visit his son but only with the child’s mother’s approval and the access must be in a “therapeutic environment”. Sounds to me like Mr. Rotondo has more problems than just overstaying his welcome at the familial home.

His parents begged him to get a job but he said that if he is employed he cannot receive free government services for indigent litigants, as he plans to appeal the custody order.

He is also involved in a lawsuit against a former employer, Best Buy, who fired him when he refused to work on Saturdays, claiming that he needed Saturdays off to see his son.

His beleaguered parents have exhibited divine patience yet their son suggested to the court that he had not received sufficient notice. This argument was soundly rejected. Over a period of three months, the Rotondo parents issued five eviction notices, all of which he ignored.

However, if you think his parents are cold-hearted, think again….They offered to help him find a place; supply him with funds to get settled; offered to provide monies so he could repair his rundown car; and offered to provide him with some furnishings. Enough is enough!

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Extra Fee for Excellent Result in Family Law Case Denied by Ontario Court

GeorgiaLeeLang025The law in Canada generally prohibits lawyers from entering into a contingency fee agreement with clients in family law cases. In Ontario there is an absolute prohibition, while in British Columbia, it is permissible so long as the matter does not relate to children and is strictly financial.

In a recent Ontario case, the Court of Appeal (Jackson v. Stephen Durbin and Associates 2018 ONCA 424) considered whether a family law lawyer’s retainer agreement, which stipulated that if the lawyer achieved exceptional results he could charge an additional fee, constituted a contingency fee agreement.

Client Davis Jackson, a police officer earning $96,000 per year, hired Stephen Durbin and Associates to represent him in an action where he sought custody of his six-year-old daughter. The firm’s representation was excellent. Mr. Jackson received sole custody of his daughter, one-half of the sale proceeds of the matrimonial home, and costs of $192,000.

Mr. Jackson owed the law firm $132,597 in legal fees which he paid, but the firm also held back a “results achieved fee” of $72,433, to which he objected. No breakdown of the extra fee calculation was provided.

Ontario’s Solicitor’s Act reads as follows:

Contingency fee agreements

28.1 (1) A solicitor may enter into a contingency fee agreement with a client in accordance with this section.

Remuneration dependent on success

(2) A solicitor may enter into a contingency fee agreement that provides that the remuneration paid to the solicitor for the legal services provided to or on behalf of the client is contingent, in whole or in part, on the successful disposition or completion of the matter in respect of which services are provided.

No contingency fees in certain matters

(3) A solicitor shall not enter into a contingency fee agreement if the solicitor is retained in respect of,

(a) a proceeding under the Criminal Code (Canada) or any other criminal or quasi-criminal proceeding; or

(b) a family law matter.

The law firm argued that the results fee was not a contingency fee but a “bonus” or “premium” which was not inappropriate.

The court disagreed saying that family law litigation is fundamentally different from civil litigation. They said that because family finances are divided and no outside funds are injected, it is inappropriate for a lawyer’s fee to be contingent on a particular result.

In respect of a custody issue, the court confirmed there are no “winners” or “losers” as a determination of custody is based on a child’s best interests and an analysis of which parent had more success is contraindicated: it is the child’s success that is paramount.

The Door Slams Shut on Ex-Wife Who Wants More Spousal Support

P1010870 - Version 2In a sensible decision handed down today by the BC Court of Appeal, (Sandy v. Sandy 2018 BCCA 182) a former spouse has learned that the trial judge’s order that she could come back to the “well” after a final settlement of spousal support is unsupportable in law.

Ms. Sandy and her accountant husband settled all financial issues between them by executing a separation agreement that dealt with spousal support via a lump sum payment of $315,000. She eventually received the sum of $411,000 in spousal support because of a CRA reassessment favourable to her spouse, together with her share of the family property, an amount a little more than $1 million dollars.

At the time of the agreement the parties concurred that the husband’s income was $600,000, but did not address his future prospects or whether his income was likely to increase over time.

But his income continued to grow after the agreement was signed. He earned more than $800,000 in 2010 and more than $900,000 in 2014.

Ms. Sandy sought to vary the spousal support on the basis of a change in her health situation and her former spouse’s increase in income.

The first question for the Court of Appeal was whether it was possible to vary an order under s. 17 of the Divorce Act, where the order dismissed a spouse’s claim for spousal support.

Not surprisingly, they answered “no”, however, they acknowledged that in Ontario a five-member panel of the appeal court had decided the answer in the affirmative. Madam Justice Fenlon agreed that if the answer were to be “yes’ it would have to come from an enhanced panel of the Court of Appeal.

The next question was whether the Court could address the issue of ongoing spousal support where a dismissal had been ordered, via s. 15.2 of the Divorce Act, a first instance application. Their answer was “yes”, relying on Mr. Justice Goepel’s decision in B.G.D. v. R.W.D., 2003 BCCA 259, where it was determined that an order dismissing all future claims for spousal support is not supportable at law and it was inappropriate to oust the jurisdiction of the court.

Fenlon J. wrote:

“It is apparent, then, that an order dismissing a claim for child or spousal support does not preclude a subsequent application for support.”

Relying on Miglin v. Miglin the Court applied a two-stage analysis, finding there was nothing to suggest unfairness or non-compliance with the principles of the Divorce Act regarding spousal support. Ms. Sandy had counsel and the services of a financial advisor through the negotiations. With respect to the second stage, she had the burden of establishing a significant change in circumstances not within the contemplation of the parties at the time they signed the agreement.

While the trial judge found that Mr. Sandy’s increased income was a material change, the appeal court disagreed, saying that the trial judge made an assumption, not supported by the evidence. There was no evidence that the increase had not been in the contemplation of the parties, and the trial judge could not simply assume it had been. She noted that Mr. Sandy’s form 8 indicated that “his income fluctuated from year to year” and he estimated his next year’s income at $650,000.

The Court of Appeal offered sage advice saying:

“In my view the message to be drawn from Miglin and L.M.P. v. L.S., 2011 SCC 64 is that certainty and finality cannot be achieved by drawing orders that dismiss claims for support. Nor do embellishments such as “as if after trial” or references to “future claims” assist. Rather, parties wishing to achieve finality should set out in an order or agreement the potential changes in circumstances they have considered in reaching their agreement, and clearly identify the changes they agree will, or will not, warrant reconsideration of the terms on which they have resolved their support obligations.”

The lesson to be learned is that if your client is seeking finality in spousal support, the order or agreement must specifically identify the future changes that will or will not open the door to more support.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Attacks on Canadian Christian Values is Real

GeorgiaLeeLang100Imagine a situation where a gay couple were told they could not adopt a child because they were gay, or a Muslim couple told the same thing….The outcry from the public, specific interest groups, and civil liberties organizations would be searing and the media would gobble up the controversy.

But that’s exactly what occurred in Edmonton last year when an evangelical Christian couple, who otherwise qualified to bring a child into their home, were told they were “unsuitable”. The husband had himself been adopted and when he and his wife realized they could not have their own children, they applied to adopt a child.

They jumped through all the hoops with flying colours until a social worker asked them about their views on same-sex marriage, sex before marriage, and a child who may identify as the opposite gender despite the child’s biological DNA.

The couple exhibited sincere compassion as they explained their beliefs, founded on Biblical principles, beliefs also held by Catholics, Muslims and Orthodox Jews. They advised the social worker that they would accept a child’s exploration but would not encourage a gay lifestyle, hoping that by providing a stable, loving home the child would follow their example.

They also recognized the reality of the legalization of same-sex marriage and were respectful, although not supportive, of the law of the land.

Despite their thoughtful responses they were advised their views were contrary to the position held by the Alberta government and that if they adopted a child they may well abandon the child.

To their rescue came lawyers with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms who challenged the Alberta government’s Children’s Services branch on their behalf, on the ground that their Charter right to freedom of religion, had been violated. That their case was righteous was obvious when shortly after the lawyers became involved the Alberta government reversed their decision.

Yes, this is another example of the ongoing attack on Christian values in Canada. Not to mention,the battle to stop a Christian law school; deny Christian groups government funding for summer student employment; and introduce LGBTQ gender ideology in public elementary schools.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

“Mr. Big” Police Sting Convicts Ontario Wife Murderer

GeorgiaLeeLang025I recognize that the RCMP’s classic “Mr. Big” sting to cajole murder suspects to confess to horrendous crimes has been criticized by many civil libertarians as an abuse of process.

Yes, there are cases where the scenario and inducements to confess are suspect, particularly where the police masquerade as members of a murderous criminal gang. However, there are many cases where the tactics, frequently approved by our criminal courts, have been sanctioned as a legitimate tool for law enforcement, particularly after the Supreme Court of Canada issued their analysis in R. v. Hart. (2014 SCC 52)

In the Hart case our highest court found that confessions given during such operations are often unreliable and introduced a stringent new test for their admissibility as evidence in criminal cases. As such, the decision seeks to curtail the abuse of police power in coercing unreliable confessions.

In a recent Ontario case, R. v. Kelly, 2017 ONCA 621, Michael Earl Kelly was convicted of the murder of his wife, whose body was found four years after Mr. Kelly reported her missing. The trial court utilized the standards articulated by R. v. Hart, although the trial occurred before the Hart case was handed down by our highest court. Mr. Kelly was convicted of the first degree murder of Judith Thibault.

Ms. Thibault was found in Thunder Bay a few feet from Wolf Bay Road. She had one 22 caliber bullet wound in her head and was wrapped in a carpet. Although the police had no forensic evidence incriminating Mr. Kelly they were certain he was their main suspect and devised a plan to induce him to confess his crime.

RCMP sergeant “Bob”, parading as a private investigator for an insurance company, contacted Mr. Kelly, who had moved to Alberta with his new wife, and advised him that Ms. Thibault had left a life insurance policy for $3,000, naming him as the beneficiary. Bob paid the bogus insurance money to Mr. Kelly and told him that he needed to sign a release form acknowledging his receipt of the money and releasing any further claims to any other life insurance policies.

Bob told him he would investigate to determine if there was any other life insurance policies naming him as beneficiary before he released his rights. Shortly thereafter Bob contacted Mr. Kelly again and told him he had discovered two additional policies totalling $571,000. Bob showed him two fictious documents saying there was a hold on pay-out of the latter two policies because Mr. Kelly was a suspect in Ms. Thibault’s murder.

Bob told Mr. Kelly that he would not receive the proceeds of the two policies until he was cleared as a suspect and presented an insurance scam to Mr. Kelly, that would benefit both of them. His idea was that Bob had a friend, “Donnie”, who was terminally ill who would confess he was the murderer, thus removing any suspicion from Mr. Kelly, who could then receive the insurance payout. Donnie and Bob would receive $150,000 from the insurance proceeds for their assistance in the scam.

The only trick was that Mr. Kelly had to provide enough information about the murder to convey to Donnie so that the police would be convinced they had their murderer when Donnie confessed.

While Mr. Kelly initially denied any involvement in the murder, eventually he provided information that only the true murderer would know and was promptly arrested for first degree murder.

He appealed his murder conviction to the Ontario Court of Appeal who dismissed his appeal finding that the insurance scam was a variation of the typical Mr. Big sting and not an abuse of process.

The appeal court said:

…this case involved a police sting scenario that was a very modified version of a Mr. Big, without any violent criminal activity or gang aspect to it. Nor did the undercover officers befriend the appellant to make him vulnerable to pressure as a friend. It was an insurance fraud scheme.”

While the Mr. Big sting is illegal in the United States it has been a significant tool for Canadian law enforcement and has resulted in convictions that might never otherwise have been obtained.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang