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Prominent Ontario class-action lawyer Harvey Strosberg, who suffered a stroke in October, 2010, and was forced to relearn how to speak, has been celebrated by the profession for his remarkable recovery.

Kevin Van Paassen/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Harvey Strosberg, the well-known Ontario class-action lawyer who suffered a stroke in October, 2010, and was forced to relearn how to speak, has been celebrated by the profession for his remarkable recovery.

But his health issue surfaced last month in an unusually frank court decision.

His law firm, Sutts Strosberg LLP of Windsor, Ont., was facing off with rival Siskinds LLP in what is known as a "carriage fight," when two class-action firms suing the same defendant make arguments before a judge for control of the case.

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The two firms each launched lawsuits on behalf of investors against Armtec Infrastructure Inc., which saw its stock sink after it cancelled a dividend last year.

Mr. Strosberg's 35-year-old son, Jay, also a lawyer, was leading the case for Sutts Strosberg. But the decision to put the son in charge put a spotlight on his father's situation.

"Counsel have tastefully skirted an issue which I believe I must take on directly," Mr. Justice Bruce Thomas wrote in a Jan. 20 decision awarding the case to Sutts Strosberg. "In the past, Harvey T. Strosberg was lead counsel for the firm in class-action proceedings. His expertise is legendary," the judge wrote. "Because of a debilitating stroke his ability to practise at his previous torrid pace has been affected."

Earl Cherniak, the veteran litigator acting for Siskinds, had questioned Jay's appointment, asking whether "the best interests of the class would be served by that 'passing of the torch.'"

But Judge Thomas ruled that this should not be a factor: "I find however that it is not as if Jay Strosberg is being thrown to the lions on his own. He has a talented, supportive litigation team which includes his father."

Jay said he was pleased that the judge addressed the matter of his father's stroke. "I think the judge had to deal with it," he said. "It was the elephant in the room."

Meanwhile, Harvey is working on another class-action case, set for trial in March, in which he will serve as co-lead counsel. Jay said his father is increasingly taking the lead role in other cases. "You can't have Harvey doing it forever," Jay added. "But the nice thing is, if I have a question, I can just pick up the phone and talk to him."

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Siskinds LLP's Dimitri Lascaris declined to comment on the case, but said his client intends to appeal Judge Thomas's ruling.



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