Thursday, August 8, 2019

Should Public Funds Be Spent Having Legal Clinics Use These Aggressive Tactics

Yesterday I wrote a letter to Charles Harnick, the new Chair of the Board of Legal Aid Ontario with a copy to the CEO David Field.  LAO is funded by the provincial and federal governments.

I've attached the letter here, with the names of the legal clinics redacted.  I wrote the letter after speaking with a prospective client who was in tears as we spoke over the phone.  She was furious that government funds were being used to, in her words, "extort" money from her.  I won't repeat the facts here, they are in the letter.

Letter to Chair of LAO re: Appropriateness of Legal Clinic Conduct 

So I'm just asking the question, and I don't know if there is a right answer.  Are these proper tactics for a community legal clinic to employ?  Should this type of advocacy in civil matters, where the clinic's requested remedy is just about money, be part of LAO's mandate?

If done by a private bar lawyer or paralegal, not paid for by the public purse, then absolutely it's fair game, although depending on the circumstances, it "may" amount to sharp practice and be of a concern to our regulator, the Law Society of Ontario.  But as sordid as this practice sounds, the landlord doesn't have to accept the offer, and negotiation is part of the job of a lawyer or paralegal.  After all, the landlord can simply take the matter to the LTB for a hearing to decide the bona fides of her claim.

But when done by an agency such as a community legal clinic, which is an actor of government, funded by Legal Aid Ontario, I'm not sure that it's appropriate.  You have the oppressive hand of government, with the knowledge, skills and money victimizing small landlords who are unrepresented and who don't hold their own against a lawyer from the clinic system.  There is no risk to the clinic system or tenant if they lose.  The normal economic risk of the costs of litigation are not a factor.

If you think this is an issue, I'd ask you to send this letter to your MPP or your local paper.  I'd be interested in hearing your comments whether you agree or disagree.

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