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Bre-X lawyer faces suspension for ‘incivility’

Lawyer Joe Groia pictured outside Osgood Hall in Toronto

Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Prominent Bay Street lawyer Joe Groia deserves a suspension of two to four months and a public reprimand for his "incivility" during his successful defence of Bre-X geologist John Felderhof a dozen years ago, the Law Society of Upper Canada says.

In June, a law society discipline panel found that Mr. Groia violated his profession's rules with a "consistent pattern of rude, improper or disruptive conduct" during the lengthy 2000 trial of Mr. Felderhof for securities charges arising out of the Bre-X scandal, in which promised gold deposits in Indonesia proved to be false.

Mr. Groia has vowed to appeal the ruling. But a law society discipline panel will reconvene on Nov. 20 to hear submissions on the penalty he should face. "To deter the kind of conduct engaged in by Mr. Groia, the hearing panel should impose a penalty that is significant and not perceived by the public or the profession as condoning the conduct in question," the law society argues in its submission to the panel, prepared by lawyer Tom Curry.

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The regulator of lawyers in Ontario is also seeking more than $250,000 from Mr. Groia for the legal costs of the proceedings.

The law society's submission is harshly critical of Mr. Groia, who vigorously defended the charges against him, hiring prominent lawyer Earl Cherniak. The society alleges that Mr. Groia has failed to show remorse. "Over the course of these proceedings, Mr. Groia has not demonstrated any contrition or insight into the nature of his misconduct during the [Felderhof] trial," its submission reads.

The society takes Mr. Groia to task for comments in the media, including for calling the discipline proceeding "misguided" and for posing for a newspaper photographer with two bottles of wine, one labelled "civility" and one marked "incivility."

It also accuses him of "needlessly lengthening the hearing" with a motion to have it thrown out and by "calling irrelevant evidence and by challenging the propriety of the law society's regulation of civility."

Mr. Groia referred a request for comment to Mr. Cherniak, who said: "We are very disappointed in the unwarranted position taken by the law society. Mr. Groia's response will be advanced at the hearing Nov. 20."

During his discipline hearing, Mr. Groia had some high-profile defenders, including Edward Greenspan. The Criminal Lawyers Association also intervened on his behalf, arguing that too much oversight of lawyers' courtroom behaviour would cause some to hold back when defending their clients.

In an appeal document submitted in June, Mr. Cherniak called the discipline hearing "flawed and unfair" and said the ruling against his client could send a chill to other defence lawyers.

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