Disbarred BC Lawyer Refused License in Ontario

GEO_edited-1Malcolm Zoraik was on the losing end of a motor vehicle personal injury case in Victoria, but he didn’t take losing well. Instead, a week after the jury verdict he surreptitiously delivered a letter directed to the Sheriff at the Victoria Courthouse that alleged jury tampering and described circumstances that could only have been his case. His apparent goal was to have a mistrial declared and a second kick at the can.

The police investigation included an interview with Mr. Zoraik, who denied any involvement, but security video showed that he had delivered the letter and his fingerprint was found on the envelope. He was charged with public mischief, obstruction of justice, and fabrication of evidence, plead not guilty, and embarked on a 13-day trial asserting his innocence.

He was convicted of public mischief and fabrication of evidence and two days later signed an undertaking not to practice law in British Columbia. He was disbarred by the Law Society in May of 2013. He appealed his criminal convictions and the Law Society disbarment, losing his criminal appeal, but gaining a second hearing by the Law Society, who again revoked his license to practice in April of 2018.

In 2012 Mr. Zoraik moved to Ontario and enrolled at Osgoode Hall Law School and attained a Masters degree in business law. While in Ontario he filed for bankruptcy with debt of $267,000 including student loans. By 2014 he acquired an articling position in Ontario which was terminated by the Law Society, but upon his principal’s entreaties the articles were reinstated. The Law Society said that they didn’t need to assess Mr. Zoraik’s character.

In 2016 he applied for a license to practice law in Ontario, an application that was deferred until his BC appeals were completed, albeit the application was opposed by the Law Society of Ontario, alleging he lacked the required “good character” to become a member of the Ontario bar.

Remarkably, at the Ontario Law Society’s investigation, Mr. Zoraik refused to speak about his criminal convictions in Victoria. He was asked:

INVESTIGATOR: Okay. I’m just going back to something Shoshanna asked earlier. After the court out in B.C. to do with the letter, the letter that was there, Shoshanna asked how do you feel about it. Do you feel any – do you feel any remorse over your behaviour at that time?

And answered:

MR. ZORAIK: Like I said, I don’t want to get – get into that matter. Like as I said, I think it’s an indication of my level of respect and acceptance of – of the court’s verdict that – that I have kept myself to the utmost, you know, best behaviour. I haven’t had any – any issues before that or since that. So – so whatever lesson that was there for me, I’ve learned. That is it. So, you know, I hope you understand that it’s a legal proceeding, that I not going to go beyond that. I hope that – I hope you understand. (Inaudible). What more I can do. (Inaudible).

Despite multiple character witnesses, none of whom were aware of the details of his criminal convictions or the fact that his bankruptcy discharge was delayed by his Trustee; and a law firm prepared to hire him, the Law Society refused to admit him to the Ontario bar saying:

“The evidence he gave at his criminal trial was found to be evasive, not credible, tarnished, feigned or grasping. He was not believed…There is much speculation reflected in the multiple decisions arising from these matters as to why Mr. Zoraik, an experienced court interpreter and lawyer with 10 years’ standing, would engage is such criminal conduct.
No clear evidence was provided to us that shed any light on this point. We do not know what may have motivated or influenced Mr. Zoraik.”

In the absence of any explanation for his bizarre criminal behaviour and with no expression of remorse, the Law Society correctly determined that Mr. Zoraik would not have the privilege of practicing law in Ontario.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

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Switching Counsel: A Good Idea or Not?

_DSC4179 - Version 2How important is it to stick with the lawyer you originally retained? Not an easy question to answer, but clearly, changes in representation can be detrimental to a litigant.

There are, of course, cases where a change is beneficial. For example, where a client and a lawyer’s personalities clash continually, that may signal a needed change. However, what often happens in family law cases is that counsel will bring an application on behalf of a client with results that are less than expected, leading the client to blame the lawyer for the disappointing result.

If the result is because of a lack of preparation on the lawyer’s part, the client may consider that a change is necessary, but often a disappointing result is because the facts of the case do not support the outcome sought by counsel. If that is the case, clients should be advised in writing of the chances of success.

Sometimes a less than stellar result is because of a particular judge. Experienced counsel get to know a judge’s attitude toward a particular type of argument or client and will avoid that judge when arguing certain cases, although it is not always easy to do so.

In a recent case in California ex-Spice Girl, X Factor and America’s Got Talent coach, Mel B’s divorce from Stephen Belafonte has garnered salacious headlines, but the latest media coverage concerns her switching counsel just before her trial scheduled to commence on November 6.

The reason for her change in counsel is unknown, but media reports indicate that she abruptly walked out of her recent deposition and was later ordered by a judge to reappear and continue that discovery process.

While the trial has previously been adjourned it is expected that her new counsel will try to obtain a further delay of the trial. It has been reported that the 42-year-old has already spent a million dollars in the seven months since her divorce litigation began. A truly ugly case that may well get worse….

Personal Injury Lawyer Jailed for 20 Years For Judicial Bribery and Fraud

BarristerIn an audacious criminal conspiracy Texas personal injury lawyer Marc Garrett Rosenthal was sentenced to 20 years in prison for paying Austin, Texas Judge Abel Limas to hand down court rulings favourable to his clients. He also “bought” witnesses, coaching them in their testimony; fabricated evidence; and manipulated the court system to ensure his cases were heard by his judicial co-conspirator.  This week his appeal of conviction was dismissed. Judge Limas, who was the prosecution’s star witness, had earlier been sentenced to a six-year jail term.

The Appeal Court’s Reasons set out Rosenthal’s misdeeds, several of which involved lawsuits brought by Rosenthal against Union Pacific Railway. In one instance, he acted for the estate of a man who was killed when a train struck his vehicle at a railway crossing.

Rosenthal and his legal assistant Gilbert Benavides persuaded Benavides’ cousin to make a false statement in an effort to force Union Pacific to settle the case. The cousin falsely swore that he was present at the accident scene and witnessed the train hitting the stopped vehicle without sounding its horn or warning of its approach. Attorney Rosenthal used the false testimony to induce the train corporation to pay his client a sum in excess of $1 million dollars. He also paid a kickback of $5,000 to his assistant’s cousin and $4,000 to another of Benavides’ relatives.

In another Union Pacific court action, Rosenthal represented a woman who was severely injured when she fell from the train while attempting to board illegally. The evidence revealed that Rosenthal directed his assistant to bribe the deputy sheriff present at the accident scene to testify that the train’s engineer invited the woman to board the train. The sheriff was also told to say that he overheard the train engineer say that the company “did not care if its train ran over wetbacks.”

In his effort to induce a settlement Rosenthal also advised Union Pacific that in the absence of a settlement he would erect billboards displaying Union Pacific’s alleged comments about illegal Mexican immigrants. Not surprisingly, Union Pacific settled for $575,000. The deputy sheriff was paid $4,000.

Rosenthal expanded his fraudulent scheme when he hooked up with former state legislator, Jim Solis, who began working as associate counsel in Rosenthal’s office. Solis was instructed by Rosenthal to connect with a court clerk to circumvent the regular assignment of judges to cases and obtain Judge Limas for two of Rosenthal’s pending cases. At the time Judge Limas was running for re-election. He received thousands of dollars in donations from Rosenthal and other partners in the firm.

Wiretap evidence at Rosenthal’s trial provided convincing evidence of conspiratorial ex parte conversations between the judge, Rosenthal, and Solis, and revealed payments to Judge Abel for his cooperation. He received a total of $235,000 in bribes during his eight years on the bench.

Rosenthal’s defence team suggested that Jim Solis was a rogue employee who acted without firm approval, a submission that received short shrift. Solis was sentenced to four years in prison.

Rosenthal was also placed on probation at the conclusion of his prison sentence and ordered to pay $13 million dollars in restitution.

Sadly, in the eyes of the public the greed of these men undermines all the good work that lawyers and public officials do in their communities across North America.

“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” 1 Timothy 6:10

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

5 Reasons to Fire Your Divorce Lawyer

10950859361151CDPWhy do clients of divorce lawyers change lawyers so frequently? It’s because they are caught in an emotional vortex, facing the unknown and dreading the journey. However, there are legitimate reasons to fire your divorce lawyer. Consider the following:

1. YOUR LAWYER PULLS A BAIT AND SWITCH

This occurs when you hire a lawyer with a big reputation and never see him or her after your first consultation. Many busy, successful lawyers work with junior lawyers and paralegals and this is beneficial for a client. The usual, mundane paper-pushing can easily be done by a junior and at a far cheaper rate than “big lawyer’s” rate.

However, if this is the way your lawyer works you need to know up front. I always tell my clients that what they need from me is strategy and courtroom presence. The rest can be done by others with my supervision. Far better to have basic family law forms filled out by a junior who bills $250.00 an hour than by “big lawyer’s” charge-out rates. If you can’t accept your lawyer’s work style, time to find a new lawyer.

2. AFTER MANY MONTHS YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOUR BEST AND WORST CASE SCENARIOS ARE

After a few months your lawyer should have received from you or your spouse’s lawyer certain financial documents and information and if you have children, details about your kids and the parenting arrangements during the marriage. You have every right to expect that once a clear picture of the family finances emerges and the roles of each spouse in the marriage is elucidated, your lawyer will tell you the good, the bad and the ugly.

I am often asked to provide a “second opinion” and am always surprised when the client cannot tell me what their lawyer’s plan is to resolve the case. If four months have passed and you have no idea of where you stand, it may be time to challenge your lawyer.

3. YOUR LAWYER HAS NEVER DONE A COSTS/BENEFIT ANALYSIS

Unless you are a multi-millionaire and money is not an issue, you will want your lawyer to consider the financial viability of unleashing the hounds of hell on your spouse. By now, everyone knows how expensive court is and not just court, but the cost of two business valuators, two property appraisers, two child development experts, two accountants and the list goes on and on.

If you are fighting over a sum of $100,000 but it will cost you $150,000 to litigate, you would be a fool to proceed to court. Ah, but what about custody of kids? You can’t put a price tag on that. Yes, you can and you should. The worst battles of all are over children and usually the outcome does not justify the “go to war” tactics and accompanying costs.

A good lawyer will do everything he or she can to find a way to compromise on children’s issues, short of court proceedings. If you have not had a realistic “money” talk with your lawyer, beware.

4. YOUR LAWYER PROMISES BIG, BUT DELIVERS SMALL

An experienced, competent lawyer should be able to give you the odds of success for any court application he or she brings on your behalf. Legal cases are decided on decisions made in earlier legal cases, called precedents, and your lawyer should be fully aware of how cases like yours have been decided.

While you cannot expect lawyers to guarantee a particular outcome, before you can make an informed decision as to whether to proceed to court you need some idea of the lawyer’s opinion of the likelihood of success. If your lawyer promises the sun, the moon and the stars, but delivers space junk you may want to think twice.

5. YOUR LAWYER NEVER SENDS YOU A BILL

While at first blush this may sound like the perfect lawyer, it is not. A lawyer who is unable to bill you is a lawyer that is likely highly disorganized, overworked, has taken on too many clients and is generally overwhelmed. No one likes surprises, and when you finally receive your bill, and you will, it will come as a big shock. Insist that your lawyer bill you monthly so you can see how much this is costing you. Usually lawyers who fall behind on their billing, also avoid conversations about cost and benefits obtained. Not a good combination.

A divorce lawyer’s day is never boring and yet most other lawyers agree that divorce lawyers do the hardest work of all, they work with clients who are emotionally devastated who may become financially spent in the process. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Looking for a Lawyer? Buyer Beware

_DSC4851The practice of law is both a profession and a business. Many lawyers rely on their winning track record and high ethics to gain a reputation that engenders word-of-mouth referrals.

Other attorneys buttress their status in the profession with advertising, but Yellow Page ads, popular for so many years, have gone the way of the dodo bird.

Today’s lawyers utilize television, radio, and the internet to entice potential clients. Many of these ads fall into the cruelly boring “conservative, balding, male lawyer standing in front of a bookcase” category. While others are innovative, even racy! Case in point:

An all-women law firm in Chicago created a billboard ad that read “Life’s Short. Get a Divorce.” The ad featured a photo of an attractive woman in her lingerie beside a handsome man with a tanned six-pack. The woman who posed for the ad looked like a model but she was the lead attorney at the law firm and the dude with her was her personal trainer.

She reported that the firm was inundated with phone calls. Of course, the billboard created quite a stir and consternation in the Chicago bar. It was removed seven days after it went up for an alleged by-law infringement.

In reaction to their increase in business, these lady lawyers started a website with the same name, where they sell T-shirts and mugs with the slogan emblazoned on their products. From all reports they’re selling like hotcakes!

Other forays into to the world of marketing are less provocative but no less effective. One family law firm, again an all-women firm, launched their print marketing with the headline “Ever Argue With A Woman?” I think they made their point very clear!

Of course, where television copies life, you have the billboard in New Mexico declaring “Better Call Saul”, the sleaze bag attorney from “Breaking Bad” who has been rewarded with his own spin-off show.

Other law firms have raised the hackles of their governing bodies with their ads.

In Nevada a lawyer bills himself as “The Heavy Hitter” in his rambunctious televisions spots and a Polish speaking lawyer ran an ad on a Polish-language radio station referring to himself as “The Lion of the Court”. The trouble was that he had never tried a case in court!

Looking for a lawyer? Buyer Beware!

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Ever Hear of “Divorce Trolling”? Me Neither.

10950859361151CDPApparently “divorce trolling” has gotten so bad in the State of Michigan that a new law has been proposed to outlaw the practice, a bill sponsored by Michigan Republican Senator Rick Jones.

You ask “what is divorce trolling?” Good question. According to Senator Jones:

“When a woman is a victim of domestic violence and decides to file for divorce from her abusive husband, she should not have to worry about a trolling attorney tipping off her husband before she has time to protect herself and the children by taking actions like moving into a shelter house or getting a personal protection order.”

The proposed law will make it unlawful for a person to intentionally contact an individual that the person knows to be a party to a divorce action filed with a court, or an immediate family member of that individual with a direct solicitation to provide  a legal service until the expiration of 14 days after the date the proof of service is filed with the Court.

A first violation of this law is punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000, but if you get caught a second time or more, you’re looking at possible imprisonment and a fine of not more than $5,000.

I can only guess that divorce lawyers in Michigan are desperately in search of clients. Here in Vancouver it takes weeks to get an appointment with a top lawyer and even then, they may not want your case.

The good senator, a former sheriff, wants to make sure that women and children who flee a violent relationship aren’t further bugged by lawyers during this emotional time. Hard to believe that legislators in Michigan have nothing better to do than enact unenforceable laws.

I can picture it now…a sleazy lawyer lounging in  a criminal courtroom, jotting down names of domestic violence victims so he/she can run to a telephone to offer legal services to their spouse? Ya think?

Divorce Lawyer’s Nasty Letter Leads to His Suspension

DSC00507 (2)No one in their right mind could possibly welcome an unsolicited letter from a lawyer. The chances that such letters will bring good news are extremely remote. Clients who retain lawyers to write the dreaded “lawyer’s letter” usually have a situation that means trouble for the recipient.

But in the ordinary course of a lawyer’s business, there is no reason that these letters heralding bad news, should be rude or nasty.

I have always subscribed to the theory that each person deserves to be treated with respect and courtesy, even in the most difficult of circumstances. After all, dramatic entreaties outside of the courtroom are of little assistance in resolving disputes.

Unfortunately, not all lawyers have the discipline to exercise basic rules of common courtesy and common sense. Indiana divorce lawyer Joseph Barker falls into that category.

While acting for a father who had been denied access to his child, Mr. Barker wrote to mother’s counsel:

“[Father] told me this week that he has only seen his baby . . . one day all year. Your client doesn’t understand what laws and court orders mean I guess. Probably because she’s an illegal alien to begin with.

I want you to repeat to her in whatever language she understands that we’ll be demanding she be put in JAIL for contempt of court. I’m filing a copy of this letter with the Court to document the seriousness of this problem.”[emphasis in original letter]

The Indiana Supreme Court took exception to Mr. Barker’s letter invoking two sections of their Code of Professional Conduct:

4.4(a): Using means in representing a client that have no substantial purpose other than to embarrass, delay, or burden a third person.
8.4(g): Engaging in conduct, in a professional capacity, manifesting bias or prejudice based upon race, gender, religion, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, age, socioeconomic status, or similar factors, and this conduct was not legitimate advocacy.

Mr. Barker was suspended for 30 days for professional misconduct. The insulting letter served no legitimate purpose related to the matter of his client’s access. Perhaps Mr. Barker believed his offensive missive would intimidate opposing counsel or impress his client? Not likely…

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang