Legal Aid seeks standing at penalty hearing for disgraced refugee lawyer (Toronto Star) | Lao Tribune

Legal Aid seeks standing at penalty hearing for disgraced refugee lawyer (Toronto Star)

May 10, 2015

By Nicholas Keung  

In an unprecedented move, Legal Aid Ontario is seeking intervener status at the penalty hearing of a disgraced Toronto lawyer who has admitted to professional misconduct in representing Roma refugees.

On Monday, LAO and three other community and advocacy groups will go before a disciplinary panel of the Law Society of Upper Canada seeking standing in the sentencing of Viktor Hohots, who pleaded guilty to professional misconduct in March for failing to adequately prepare the asylum claims of 13 of his clients.

“LAO has collaborated with the Law Society of Upper Canada on disciplinary proceedings in the past. But this is the first time LAO has applied for intervener status,” said Genevieve Oger, spokesperson for legal aid, which paid Hohots to represent asylum cases with taxpayer’s dollars.

Hohots has represented hundreds of Hungarian Roma refugees in recent years.

The other applicants seeking standing include the Canadian Romani Alliance, Roma Centre and Romero House, which are represented by prominent constitutional lawyer Mary Eberts, a former Law Society bencher.

Jozef Pusuma, one of the complainants who sought sanctuary in a church for more than two years before leaving Canada voluntarily with his wife, Timea Daróczi, and daughter, Viktoria, has also asked for standing.

Gina Csanyi-Robah, of the Romani Alliance, said the groups are concerned the regulator would only give a minor penalty for Hohots’ misconduct that amounts to a “slap on the wrist,” while the complainants paid a hefty price when their asylum claims were rejected and they were ultimately deported.

Since Hohots’ plea, Csanyi-Robah said more community members have come forward — all but one of them already deported from Canada — and her alliance is prepared to submit 20 more statements from people who were not part of the original complaints.

“The Canadian Romani Alliance has a moral imperative to share these experiences and give voice to these people,” said Csanyi-Robah. “So many lives were shattered.”

In March, Hohots filed an agreed statement of facts with the law society relating to allegations made by 13 of the 18 complainants between August 2009 and February 2012.

Among the allegations agreed to by Hohots:

  • Much of the complainants’ initial work was done by an interpreter and former immigration consultant who worked for him.
  • He did not spend sufficient time with any of the complainants or provide adequate legal advice.
  • Junior lawyers at his law firm were called upon at the last minute to represent the complainants at hearings, and discovered their written claims “were neither accurate nor complete.”
  • One of his lawyers described the firm as “extremely disorganized,” and quit, along with another lawyer, because of the “low level of service” provided to many of the refugee clients.
  • Mary Jo Leddy of Romero House, which helps refugees resettle, said the impact could be more far-reaching, as a recent academic study led by Osgoode Hall Law School investigating Roma refugee claims found Hohots represented hundreds of Hungarian — mostly Roma — cases between 2008 and 2012, with a dismal 1.2 per cent success rate.

    “The sentencing decision has implications for all refugee groups. If such misconduct is not addressed seriously, then it will discourage refugees, good lawyers and refugee advocates from trusting in the Law Society complaints process,” said Leddy.

    “We are not interested in simply punishing a lawyer for misconduct. We are interested in a justice that restores humanity to both the offender and the offended. We would like to see Viktor Hohots involved in the process of seeking redress for the refugees who were harmed by his misconduct.”

    Both Hohots and his lawyer Mitchell Worsoff said they would reserve their comments until after the penalty hearing. Hohots could face suspension, supervised practice or lose his licence.