The case is one that the company itself has grappled with – dividing the three members of the independent panel convened to examine the allegations against Vancouver litigator Stephen John Bronstein. The majority admitted that the sanction “would otherwise be unduly lenient” – but felt that the difficulty in holding a full hearing meant that there might be no sanction if they did not accept a proposal that saw Bronstein admit four allegations of malpractice in return for the sentence his lawyer suggested.
The dissenting opinion was written by the first Indigenous woman to serve as one of 25 councilors elected to oversee the conduct of the legal profession in British Columbia.
Karen Snowshoe said the one-month suspension and the $ 4,000 fine were “grossly inadequate” for behavior she called “serious.”
She said the decision “would very likely call into question public confidence in [the law society’s] regulatory process and its ability to act in the public interest, including with respect to the protection of the most vulnerable and marginalized members of society.
“Nobody is happy with the result”
Bronstein did not respond to an email seeking comment. The decision also prevents him from acting as an advisor or agent for any Sixties Scoop applicant.
Law Society of BC director of communications Jason Kuzminski said everyone involved grappled with the case.
“No one is happy with the outcome,” Kuzminski told CBC.
“It underscores the fact that I think everyone kind of agrees that change has to happen and this is one of those cases that exposes the need. ”
The sanction against Bronstein was announced Thursday – the same day, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation revealed the discovery of the remains of 215 children buried at the site of a former residential school near Kamloops, British Columbia.
The 125-page ruling highlights what one judge called the “after-tragedies” of attempts to compensate residential school survivors: legal misconduct resulting in further victimization.
According to the ruling, Bronstein’s cabinet represented 624 residential school survivors between 2009 and 2015.
They were awarded $ 70 million through an independent assessment process developed under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement to resolve specific claims of sexual abuse, severe physical violence and other wrongdoing.
The federal government paid Bronstein’s company $ 10.5 million and it also received contingency fees from some of its clients.
A killer accused of having “snatched up a lot of people”
In 2007, Bronstein helped a residential school survivor named Ivon Johnny reach a settlement through an alternative dispute resolution process.
Johnny was sentenced to life for first degree murder in 1985, but was released on day parole in 2005.
After Bronstein represented him, Johnny offered to put the lawyer in touch with other members of the Tsilhqot’in First Nation. Bronstein hired him as a “forms filler” to help applicants complete their applications, witness signatures and contact clients in the Williams Lake area.
The decision indicated that Bronstein believed “Johnny was a suitable person to provide help … However, [he] took no further action to confirm its belief in this regard. “
Between 2009 and 2012, Bronstein’s office received a number of complaints about Johnny’s behavior.
A legal assistant claimed he demanded money from clients. A woman called to say that her brother had paid Johnny $ 20,000. Another caller – who was not one of Bronstein’s clients – claimed that Johnny was “mean” and “scams a lot of people”.
Bronstein spoke to Johnny about the allegations, but Johnny denied taking any money. In 2012, his parole was revoked, apparently due to concerns about his treatment of residential school claimants.
According to the bar ruling, Bronstein admitted to exercising a lack of due diligence by failing to investigate Johnny’s suitability before giving him unsupervised access to clients, and failing to adequately investigate the complaints.
He also admitted to providing inadequate service to some customers by failing, in part, to properly document important communications, respond to their communications consistently, and advance their complaints in a timely manner.
A call nearby ‘
In 2015, British Columbia Supreme Court Justice Brenda Brown concluded that Bronstein did not meet the standards expected of a legal professional.
The judge said there was evidence that he “dismissed his clients’ complaints” because of alcoholism and mental illness.
But Brown refused a request for Bronstein’s removal by the monitor appointed to oversee the implementation of the settlement agreement. She ordered him to pay $ 1.25 million to cover the controller’s legal costs.
In deciding to accept Bronstein’s proposal for the month-long suspension, the two attorneys who signed the majority decision said it would be difficult to prove the allegations against the attorney because his former clients have indicated that they were unwilling to testify at a contested hearing.
“The bar has quite reasonably indicated that it would not force them to do so, given the real concern that testifying in an adversarial setting is likely to evoke traumatic memories and therefore further victimize them”, declared the decision.
Bronstein had no other professional discipline and he apologized to his clients and to the bar.
On the other hand, the majority said that his “malpractice was multifaceted, pervasive and had an impact on many clients”.
“Above all, the victims of [his] misconduct was a particularly vulnerable category of clients who had experienced abuse and trauma as children, ”said the majority decision.
“They deserved professional legal assistance provided with the utmost sensitivity and care. “
The majority decision concluded that it was a “close appeal” but that the sanction “falls within the range of just and reasonable results”.
‘My discovery is no’
Snowshoe is a lawyer and mediator whose clients include the Indian Residential Schools Adjudication Secretariat.
She was also senior counsel for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
His dissent points out that the Bronstein investigation was one of seven launched against law firms that handled residential school claims.
Two of these cases resulted in resignation and one in expungement.
Snowshoe quotes a judge who heard one of the other cases: “It’s a dreadful truth, but some lawyers hired to help residential school survivors have dishonored themselves and the legal profession by further victimizing their Indigenous clients. various ways. . “
She said it was no surprise that Bronstein’s former clients wouldn’t want to testify because the bar’s adversarial process creates barriers for vulnerable and marginalized people.
She noted that until recently, visitors to the company’s offices were greeted by a statue of former British Columbia Supreme Court justice Matthew Begbie, who was responsible for the hanging of six Tsilhquot ‘chiefs. in in 1864.
“To this day, the Begbie statue sits in the Law Society’s basement and remains a source of contention between Indigenous and non-Indigenous members of the profession and the public,” Snowshoe wrote.
Snowshoe concluded by asking if an impartial person “would find the proposed disciplinary measures just and reasonable?”
“My conclusion is no,” she wrote.
“Something that concerns us”
Kuzminski told CBC that a meeting of bar advisers opened Friday with a minute’s silence for the children whose remains were found at the site of the former Kamloops residential school.
He said the company made a commitment at the end of 2020 to address the kind of concerns Snowshoe raised in his dissent.
“This is something that concerns us in the modern field. The need to respond to the particular needs of indigenous peoples, but also at a time when we have greater representation of diversity at all levels, ”he said.
Snowshoe’s dissent includes a number of recommendations aimed at making society’s hearings less traumatic for vulnerable witnesses, including giving evidence on closed-circuit television or behind a screen, admitting victim impact statements and ending the cross-examination considered abusive, inappropriate or repetitive.
Kuzminski said the company president wants advisers to review the decision before they meet next month to come up with a plan to implement the types of changes he calls for.
He said that because the decision about Bronstein was made by consent, there was no way to revise it.