Have you ever been so upset at being wronged, but thought better of becoming a David, battling Goliath?
Why battle a behemoth, when the proverbial deck seems stacked against you?
Many lawyers are passionate about standing up for the rights of people who have been treated unfairly by those who assert power over them.
One of those lawyers is a guy named Joseph Groia.
He had a client named John Felderhof. Mr. Felderhof had been instrumental with Bre-X Minerals Ltd., a Canadian mining company that collapsed in 1997, when its gold mining claims proved false.
Mr. Felderhof was charged by the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) with insider trading and authorizing inaccurate new releases. During the acrimonious trial of R. v. Felderhof, Mr. Groia repeatedly made sarcastic outbursts and alleged impropriety by prosecutors.
The trial judge eventually directed Mr. Groia to stop repeating certain allegations. He largely obliged.
In a 594 page judgment, the trial judge found Mr. Felderhof “not guilty” on all counts. No doubt Mr. Groia’s client was relieved.
Then, the Law Society of Upper Canada (now called the Law Society of Ontario) brought disciplinary proceedings against Mr. Groia, based on his alleged “uncivil behavior” at the trial.
Law societies across Canada are, of course, the bodies that govern the legal profession.
Mr. Groia then spent the next 11 years fighting to defend his own reputation.
First, he was found guilty of professional misconduct. He was briefly suspended from practicing law, and ordered to pay almost $247,000 toward the Law Society of Upper Canada’s costs.
He challenged the decision at the Law Society of Upper Canada, the Ontario Divisional Court and the Ontario Court of Appeal. At each of these stages, he was unsuccessful.
Not one to give up, Mr. Groia sought a further appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.
At this stage, he was finally vindicated. In Groia v. Law Society of Upper Canada, 2018 SCC 27, a 6:3 decision, the Supreme Court of Canada overturned the finding of professional misconduct against Mr. Groia.
It also threw out the penalty, and awarded him costs in all court proceedings, and in the Law Society proceedings.
In its decision, the Supreme Court of Canada commented that trials are the primary way that disputes in our justice system are resolved in a just, peaceful and orderly way.
“By the same token, trials are not — nor are they meant to be — tea parties….”
The Supreme Court of Canada observed that “the very nature of Mr. Groia’s allegations — deliberate prosecutorial misconduct depriving his client of a fair trial — led him to use strong language that may well have been inappropriate in other contexts.”
Maybe he passionately felt that the process his client had experienced was unfair to some extent.
He was upset by that.
The Supreme Court had much to say about the importance of civility. No doubt we would all agree.
But in the end, he finally prevailed.
So, if you have ever wondered why you would battle a behemoth, well, because you just might see justice, eventually.
And if victorious, you might also be able to improve things for others.
This is how our law changes, and develops. By people standing up for their rights, in the face of adversity.
There is more. What sweeter victory than for Mr. Groia to have become a part of the very body who had wronged him.
He is now a Bencher at the Law Society of Ontario. He has an opportunity to contribute to policy decisions, and to adjudicate over proceedings just like his own.
Sometimes, it is worth it to fight for your rights.
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