Ezra Levant: Once a lawyer always a lawyer?

Ms Soapbox is grateful to Ezra Levant (and that’s not an easy thing to say).

Thanks to Ezra she’s discovered that journalism is not a profession (actually she suspected it all along); she’s also learned that “once a lawyer always a lawyer” until the Law Society says otherwise.

Levant’s resignation

There may be 50 ways to leave your lover but there are only two ways to leave The Law—you get disbarred or you resign. Either way, whether you stay or go is not your decision, it depends on the Law Society.

Erza has been trying to leave the profession for eight years but people keep filing complaints against him so he can’t get a clear window of time in which his resignation request can be heard.

Poor Ezra.  This time complaints filed against him by the Alberta Human Rights Commission and two lawyers who used to work there are blocking his exit.

CALGARY-RALLY

Ezra Levant Lawyer/Political Commentator

Levant called the Human Rights Commission “crazy town” as in “you gotta get out your shovel and dig to get to the crazy that’s underneath the crazy.” He described a lawyer as a “bigot”, an “anti-immigrant racist”, and “a fan of racist revenge porn”.

The complaint alleges that Levant has been “publicly discourteous or disrespectful to a commissioner or tribunal chair” and his “public comments regarding [the Commission] were inappropriate and unbecoming.”

Ezra says he’s not going to resign while there’s a pending complaint against him. Actually he can’t resign in the face of a pending complaint because the Law Society won’t approve a resignation request unless an applicant has no outstanding conduct issues, or if there are outstanding conduct issues they aren’t bad enough to result in disbarment.

It says Levant will have to “address” his outstanding conduct issues with the three-person committee struck to consider his request. The committee will not make a determination of guilt or innocence, it will simply decide whether it’s in the public’s best interest to grant Levant’s request to resign.

In the past 15 years the Law Society considered fewer than 20 applications for resignation. The majority of these applications were made by lawyers facing outstanding conduct issues including incompetence, misleading other lawyers, lying to their clients and stealing trust funds.

These lawyers were allowed to resign after they admitted the facts alleged against them.

Levant argues that the Law Society doesn’t have the jurisdiction to consider these complaints, presumably because he was a non-practicing lawyer exercising his right of free speech and the freedom of the press when he made them.

He says he’ll either fight the complaint (which means a full blown disciplinary hearing not just a resignation hearing) and win and then retire (assuming he hasn’t triggered another complaint in the meantime) or the Law Society will drop the complaints (fat chance) and then he’ll retire.

One thing Levant is adamant about is that “There’s no way in hell I will ever apologize for my political journalism. I would literally go to jail before I retracted a political opinion and I’m not saying that to be dramatic.”

The Law Society’s Reach

Here’s where it gets interesting.

If the Law Society sticks to its position that it has jurisdiction and insists Ezra provide an admitted statement of facts and he refuses, it should deny his application. In so doing it will set a new precedent—that it does indeed have the power to discipline non-practicing lawyers for statements they’ve made in the non-legal arena.

It’s not much of a stretch to conclude that all non-practicing lawyers-turned-politicians would be open to Law Society censure for making egregious statements about their opponents and their policies and they won’t be able to shield such statements as political rhetoric.

wildrose

Brian Jean Lawyer/Politician

Alberta has more than its share of non-practicing lawyers who’ve entered politics.

And while snarky comments like Jim Prentice’s “math is hard” to Rachel Notley would not rise to the level of “conduct unbecoming”;  misleading or false statements like those made by Brian Jean about Bill 6 Farm Safety may be enough to land lawyer/politicians in front of the Law Society’s discipline committee.

And for that Ezra Levant I would be truly grateful.

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20 Responses to Ezra Levant: Once a lawyer always a lawyer?

  1. Linda says:

    Susan, why has nothing been done about the lawyer (descendant of a former much admired premier) who, in writing, invited the U of C Board to hide illegal donations to the PCS by buying tickets to a fundraiser via an invoice for legal services provided by him?
    I asked the Law Society for an investigation but did not receive any reply.

    • Linda, I don’t know the answer to your question and I’m disappointed that the Law Society hasn’t had the courtesy of providing you with a reply. I wonder whether the answer lies in John G’s comment in which he points out that the decision to investigate may be influenced by who the alleged transgressor is. The Law Society may be more willing to investigate a complaint against an outlier, especially a very vocal one, than one of their own. If this is the case it’s very disturbing.

  2. anonymous says:

    “There may be 50 ways to leave your lover but there are only two ways to leave The Law—you get disbarred or you resign.”

    Kinda obvious, but what the hell.

  3. John G says:

    Well, you can die, too…

    i find it disturbing that law societies – and Alberta’s is not the only one – take it upon themselves to control the speech of members who criticize public institutions – or at least some members, probably not the best connected or most powerful, just the outliers. Why should a lawyer not criticize the Human Rights Commission, or the government, or any other tax-funded body? And why should the law societies police the courtesy or rudeness of the criticism? There is a law of libel. The law societies’ actions smack of the establishment protecting itself against the disrespectful rabble. That’s not a good role for a self-regulatory body of lawyers.

    • John, I became acutely aware of the potential reach of the Law Society as I wrote this post and found myself discarding analogies to other groups that won’t let you leave until they say you can leave. It wasn’t lost on me that Ms Soapbox is a practicing lawyer writing political commentary about a public/legal institution. Deep down I agree with Ezra (I hate it when that happens) and as much as I’d like to find a mechanism to hold politicians accountable for spreading histrionic half truths I don’t think expanding the powers of the Law Society is the way to go about it. But it made for an interesting blog, so there you go.

    • Carlos Beca says:

      I am with John on this one. It almost sounds as if the Law Society does not believe in the processes that helped create.
      I agree that nothing seems to stop Ezra from being the pest he is, but that is only because the last time they slapped him with an 80 thousand dollar bill. Increase that to half a million and we will see whether or not he stops his entertainment business on the backs of others.

      • Carlos, I agree with John too. In addition to the over-reach issue, there’s the question of why lawyers need the permission of the Law Society to resign. I looked at the Health Professions Act (HPA) to see how the College of Physicians and Surgeons handles doctors who want to resign. The HPA says the Registrar may cancel a regulated members’ practice permit upon request. If the Law Society is worried about outstanding disciplinary matters it can adopt the HPA model which allows a person to lodge a complaint against a member or a former member up to 2 years after the former member has resigned.

  4. ronmac says:

    Before this is all over EL might need one, or possibly all three, of these entities.

  5. John G says:

    I understand the ‘no leaving while we have a discipline proceeding going on’ rule. It keeps people from avoiding sanctions by a well-timed exit – or avoiding fees they owe. BUT I think it’s unjustified to make criticism of public institutions a disciplinary matter. Law Societies have a poor record of demonstrating the legal values that their members pride themselves in supporting, like free speech, fair hearings, and the like. Consider the Law Society of Upper Canada’s persecution of Joe Groia, or the Barreau du Québec’s over the top response to Me Doré’s private letter of criticism of a judge – a response that the Supreme Court of Canada, to its considerable shame, upheld. The historical-minded can look up French v Law Society (of Upper Canada) in the early 70s. They’re slow learners, these benchers, sometimes.

    • I wanted to wait until the Law Society heard Levant’s application for resignation before responding. As we now know the Law Society granted Levant’s application. The Law Society sent a notice to its members in which it said: “At the time of his application, Mr. Levant was facing discipline proceedings in relation to two matters. It was alleged that he was discourteous or disrespectful to a Commissioner or Tribunal Chair of the Alberta Human Rights Commission and that he made public comments regarding the Alberta Human Rights Commission that were inappropriate and unbecoming.” The Law Society went on to say: “The Resignation Committee determined it was in the best interests of the public to permit Mr. Levant to resign under Section 32 of the Legal Profession Act given that…Mr. Levant signed a Statement of Facts in which he admitted facts that would have supported these allegations, but did not admit that this was conduct deserving of sanction.”

      Bottom line: The jurisdiction question is unresolved. We still don’t know whether the Law Society has the power to discipline non-active lawyers for comments they make in the non-legal arena. Too bad. It would have been quite illuminating.

  6. Ian Gray says:

    It does indeed make for an interesting blog, Ms. Smith, but there’s a compelling reason I believe trying to use the Law Society to reign in political/legal hybrids won’t work-MLA privilege. Anything said in the Legislature, no matter how misleading. enjoys absolute privilege unless the Speaker rules it out of order (as I’m sure you know). Outside the House it gets more complicated.
    Using your Bill 6 example, say somebody went to the Benchers to complain and they found there was merit and called a hearing. The MLA in question could then rise on a point of privilege and claim the Society was infringing on his ability to function. If the Speaker ruled in his favour (and precedent suggests he or she would) the Society might then be ordered to appear before the appropriate Standing Committee (I believe it’s the infamous “no-meet” committee) to answer for its actions, Wouldn’t that be fun (and expensive for the taxpayer)?

    • Ian, you’re point on MLA privilege is well taken. Everything an MLA says “under the Dome” is protected. Even if the Speaker rules it out of order (which doesn’t seem to happen very often) it’s still out there for everyone to see so the damage has been done. If the truth be told I would prefer that the Law Society’s jurisdiction did not extend to non-legal statements made by non-practicing lawyer/politicians. The job of holding politicians accountable should rest with the public and the media not an institution as arcane as the Law Society. Sadly, one needs only look to Donald Trump and our own Kevin O’Leary to see that the public and the media aren’t doing their job–they prefer to celebrate the showman at the expense of the truth.

      • Ian Gray says:

        If it came down to it, I think the Legislature and the Law Society would do everything in their respective power to avoid direct conflict. The Society’s ruling on Levant illustrates its inclination to the expedient: he’s gone; the parties have agreed to disagree and as you point out, the jurisdiction issue is unresolved (I suspect to everyone’s relief).
        Another point to ponder is that the Albert Law Society is a creation of the Alberta Legislature (Legal Profession Act). If the politicians felt the Society threatened them in any serious fashion, they could rewrite the law.
        I don’t follow your reasoning regarding Trump/O’Leary, I’m afraid. Like them or not, they’re clearly newsworthy. Since both have a chance of achieving power (Trump in particular), media scrutiny is not only necessary, its the only responsible course of action. We can argue about the extent of nature of the coverage but I’d really rather not. 😉
        Again, my apologies Susan for re-naming you.

  7. david says:

    This was a helpful (and wonderfully ironic!) blog for those of us unfamiliar with the inner workings (and scope) of the Law Society.
    I also appreciated your reference to Brian Jean and his self-interested distortion of Bill 6, to the detriment of human rights (yes, farmworkers do have the right to a safe workplace and compensation for injury).

    • David, thanks for highlighting a critical point. The Wildrose was so busy riling up farmers about Bill 6 by (it was a socialist plot to strip farmers of their freedom) that most people lost sight of the purpose of Bill 6, namely that farmers like the rest of us have a fundamental human right to a safe workplace. Unbelievable.

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