Edmonton

Ezra Levant law-society resignation application criticized by complainants

Three lawyers who filed law-society complaints against controversial right-wing commentator Ezra Levant say they believe the Law Society of Alberta has breached its own rules by allowing Levant’s resignation application while he still faces outstanding conduct issues.

Law society accused of breaching its own rules

Rebel Media founder Ezra Levant. (CBC)

Three lawyers who filed law-society complaints against controversial right-wing commentator Ezra Levant say they believe the Law Society of Alberta has breached its own rules by allowing Levant's resignation application while he still faces outstanding conduct issues.

Two of the complainants - Ottawa law professor Amir Attaran and lawyer Richard Warman - are threatening to take the law society to court for the second time if it allows Levant to resign without being technically disbarred.

"We believe that would constitute a serious jurisdictional error by the (law society) benchers which may result in further litigation," Attaran and Warman wrote in an email sent to every law society bencher. A bencher is a lawyer elected by law-society members to sit on disciplinary and other panels for the self-regulating society.

The law society declined comment.

The law society agreed to hold a disciplinary hearing into three citations against Levant, which were based on the complaints of two former Alberta Human Rights Commission lawyers - Moosa Jiwaji and Arman Chak.

Jiwaji and Chak filed law-society complaints against Levant in 2014 following a series of columns and broadcasts in which he publicly criticized both of them, as well as the commission.

But the society suspended the hearing, which was scheduled to start Monday, after Levant applied to resign from the legal profession.

Disputed resignation

Now what is at issue is how he might be allowed to resign.

Levant, represented by Calgary lawyer James Rooney, is scheduled to appear before a three-person, law-society disciplinary panel Wednesday to argue he should be allowed to resign under Section 32 of the Alberta Legal Profession Act. Under that section, Levant would not be technically disbarred.

The law society has publicly stated a lawyer can resign under Section 32 when there are either no outstanding conduct issues or no outstanding issues that would warrant disbarment.

But the lawyers who filed complaints against Levant disagree with this interpretation. They say that because Levant still faces outstanding complaints, he can only apply to resign under Section 61, which is deemed a disbarment under the Alberta Legal Profession Act.

Section 61 says a member whose conduct is subject to proceedings can apply to resign rather than have the proceedings continue.

"How can the law society conclude that there are 'no outstanding conduct issues that would warrant a disbarment' without holding a hearing to determine whether Levant's conduct warrants disbarment?" said Tom Engel, who represents Jiwaji, in an email to the law society's legal counsel.

The citations alleged Levant had been "publicly discourteous or disrespectful to a commissioner or tribunal chair" and that his "public comments regarding the Alberta Human Rights Commission were inappropriate and unbecoming."

Law society loses appeal

The law society's code of conduct essentially says lawyers are supposed to be courteous to other lawyers, and the public.

"Mr. Levant's conduct was so egregious that to allow him to resign under 'an administrative process and not a conduct-related process' is wrong," Engel's email continued. "Proceeding under (Section) 32, an administrative process, does not allow for a determination on whether Mr. Levant's conduct against Mr. Jiwaji was in breach of the (lawyers' code of conduct)."

Attaran and Warman took the law society to court in Alberta after it dismissed their complaints against Levant. He had faced nine charges of misconduct in October 2012 but the hearing never happened, and Levant successfully applied to another law-society committee to have the charges dismissed.

Attaran and Warman appealed to the Court of Queen's Bench. A judge in the case ruled the law society's handling of the case may have amounted to an abuse of process that "is prone to undermine the integrity of the Law Society's disciplinary proceedings and the public's confidence in its ability to protect the public."

The law society appealed but the Court of Appeal ruled against them. The matter was sent back to the Court of Queen's Bench to determine whether the law society should be compelled to hear the misconduct complaint of Attaran and Warman. Their complaint related to an incident in which Levant, on Sun TV, made a vulgar comment in Spanish to an American-Hispanic executive, who is also a lawyer.

Attaran and Warman believe that until their complaint is resolved, Levant should not be allowed to resign under Section 32.

Levant told CBC News last week the complaints by Chak and Jiwaji "are absurd and unconstitutional.

"I think it's outside of the law society's legal jurisdiction," he said. "And my record of successfully defending against all of these nuisance complaints suggests that the law society's complaints officers and benchers that have actually heard the evidence have agreed with me.

"I suspect the law society is tired of having their resources abused by political complaints and being hijacked by nuisance litigants," he said.

"I'm happy to proceed either way — fight the absurd complaints against me (as I have for eight years), win, and then retire as a lawyer. Or have the law society drop the absurd complaints against me, and then retire."