March 17, 2011

Bad Character: How long does it take to become good again?

Administrative Law
Professional Regulation
Registration and Fitness

With civility between lawyers being of recent concern to the Law Society of Upper Canada, the “good character” of applicants has acquired greater significance. The case of Law Society of Upper Canada v. Manilla, 2010 ONLSHP 92 involved an application for admission to the Ontario bar on the part of an articled student who had engaged in some admittedly inappropriate behaviour during his time as president of the board of his condominium. Based on an agreed Statement of Facts, the Panel agreed that the student had made significant progress in overcoming the character defects that had led him into trouble, including charges on four counts of criminal harassment. However, the Panel ultimately split on the question of whether enough time had passed to allow the student to be admitted as a person of good character.

It was a point of consensus that, during a period of conflict with other members of the condominium board on which he had served as chair, the Applicant had engaged in “intimidation” and “character assassination”, including authoring a letter which he attributed to another, and had exhibited a lack of candour and civility to those around him. [54] He admitted, however, his conduct had been disgraceful, aggressive, arrogant and immature. [57] As a result of the fallout from these events, the student attended 23 sessions of anger management counselling. [59] According to the testimonials given by his counsellors, spouse, and religious sponsor, the Applicant successfully demonstrated a significant and genuine positive change in his attitude and behaviour towards others. Nevertheless, a majority of the Panel held that, while the applicant “appeared to be forthright and convincing” [emphasis in original], it was simply too soon to tell whether he had been genuinely rehabilitated. [76]

Although the time period between the beginning of counselling and the date of the hearing was only six months, one dissenting member of the Panel was convinced that the Applicant had made out his case. In particular, the dissenting member noted that the Applicant had built for himself a network of supportive persons in his life, including his prospective employers, each of whom vouched for the Applicant’s good character in the present, and indicated a willingness to assist the Applicant in the future. [99] In the opinion of the dissenting member, the Panel’s task was to assess the character of the Applicant at the time of the hearing. On this analysis, the amount of time since the events complained of had no bearing on the decision to be made. [136]

Given the Panel’s split on this decision, the question remains: how much time does it take for a person’s character to change for the better?

On March 4, 2011, the Applicant addressed another panel of the Law Society to appeal the ruling on good character, asserting inadequate reasons, and an editorial for Law Times News has asked a good question as to whether the panel could have considered a middle ground of allowing him to practice for a period under conditions.

Law Society of Upper Canada v. Manilla, 2010 ONLSHP 92 [September 8, 2010]