Prominent Bay Street securities lawyer Joe Groia’s courtroom rhetoric during the bitter Bre-X trial more than decade ago amounted to professional misconduct, a Law Society of Upper Canada disciplinary panel has ruled.
Mr. Groia was accused of violating his profession’s rules on civility with his behaviour during the trial of John Felderhof, the geologist at the centre of the Bre-X gold scandal in the 1990s. Mr. Felderhof was acquitted of securities charges.
During the trial, Mr. Groia repeatedly clashed with lawyers for the Ontario Securities Commission, accusing them of trying to railroad his client.
But two judges’ rulings later criticized his use of “sarcasm” and “invective” and even “guerrilla threatre” during the trial. And after a Law Society investigation, Mr. Groia faced a professional discipline hearing.
Mr. Groia’s penalty is to be determined at a future hearing. Under the Law Society’s rules he faces anything from a reprimand to a suspension or the revoking of his licence to practise law.
His lawyer, Earl Cherniak, said Mr. Groia was “very disappointed” and is considering an appeal of the decision.
“He remains of the view that his conduct of the Felderhof trial and the events leading up to it was justified and necessary,” Mr. Cherniak said.
Mr. Groia has claimed throughout that he was the victim of a “civility” campaign launched by the profession. He warned his prosecution would cause a “chilling effect” among defence lawyers, who would hold back for fear that they could face discipline later for excessive rhetoric. Some prominent lawyers and the Criminal Lawyers Association agreed.
But the three-member Law Society panel, chaired by Tom Conway, the newly elected treasurer of the Law Society, found in a ruling released late Thursday that Mr. Groia’s behaviour violated the profession’s rules.
The panel ruled that Mr. Groia’s repeated allegations during the Bre-X trial that the OSC was guilty of “prosecutorial misconduct” were “wrong in law,” and that allegations OSC lawyers also misbehaved were no defence.
And the panel dismissed Mr. Groia’s arguments that the concept of civility somehow hampers defence lawyers.
“The panel ... rejects Mr. Groia’s submissions that the duty of civility can compromise a lawyer’s duty to defend a client vigorously and zealously in a criminal proceedings,” the 52-page decision reads.
“The panel is not persuaded by Mr. Groia’s evidence that civility will have a chilling effect on the ability of defence lawyers to defend their client.”
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