`Veil of secrecy' called unacceptable

And if the law society can't provide those assurances, maybe it shouldn't be managing the profession and the job of regulating lawyers should be turned over to the Ontario government, Aaron suggested.

The Toronto Star
August 4, 2004

‘Veil of secrecy’ called unacceptable
Bencher calls for Law Society head to resign. Controversy over handling of cheating probe.
Tracey Tyler

A long-standing member of the legal profession's governing body is calling for the head of the Law Society of Upper Canada to resign over the handling of an investigation into student cheating.

The "deliberate veil of secrecy" surrounding the investigation is unacceptable, said law society bencher Bob Aaron, adding the probe raises "a huge issue" about whether the governing body is fulfilling its duty to protect the public from unqualified lawyers.

"This was horrendous. This was extremely embarrassing," said Aaron, a Toronto real estate lawyer and bencher for nine years.

"As far as I'm concerned, the treasurer (head) of the law society might want to resign."

Law society treasurer Frank Marrocco has not returned calls from the Star to his office, home and cell phone. But he had a law society communications official send an e-mail last week, saying he can't discuss the issue because the Law Society Act prohibits him from disclosing information that comes to his knowledge as a result of an investigation.

The students who were investigated were called to the bar in ceremonies last week, as well as on July 14. Lawyers retained by some of the students say the fact their clients have been admitted to practise is proof they did nothing wrong.

Bencher Alan Silverstein, who tried unsuccessfully to get Marrocco to call a special meeting about the investigation, says Aaron's position is extreme, considering that the governing body's 48 members don't have all the facts.

"I think that's pretty draconian," Silverstein, a Thornhill real estate lawyer, said yesterday.

Aaron admits he's locked horns with Marrocco more than once recently over decisions to keep law society business confidential. "A lot of us are fed up with the veil of secrecy that descends on anything confidential. Sometimes we're allowed to talk, sometimes we're not."

But Aaron, who also writes a column for the Star's New In Homes section, said he "thought carefully" before calling for Marrocco's resignation.

More than three weeks after the investigation ended, all that benchers know about it is what they've read in the Star, Aaron said in an interview.

The law society has an obligation to ensure lawyers meet certain educational and ethical requirements before being admitted to the profession, said Aaron. If the law society's governors can't be satisfied the students met the admission criteria, "I don't know how the public can," he added.

And if the law society can't provide those assurances, maybe it shouldn't be managing the profession and the job of regulating lawyers should be turned over to the Ontario government, Aaron suggested.

Prompted by an anonymous letter, the law society launched an investigation June 23 into whether 13 bar admission students committed an academic offence by collaborating on assignments, which involved drafting notices of motion, opinion letters to clients and real estate offers, among other things.

Law society investigators told some students the probe could take up to a year to complete, and in an interim report indicated more research needed to be done. But the investigation ended July 9 after a meeting of high-ranking administrators, who were warned in an e-mail not to tell anyone about the probe, including benchers.

After the Star reported on the investigation, "we were all told to keep quiet," Aaron said.

Silverstein said only a minority of benchers were calling for a special convocation, or meeting, about the issue. In calling for Marrocco's resignation, Aaron is "a minority within that minority," he said.

The investigation is now set to be discussed at the benchers' first regular meeting after the summer, on Sept. 23, when law society chief executive officer Malcolm Heins tables one of his periodic reports, Silverstein said.

Aaron said he has "total, complete confidence" in Heins. "I think he's terrific." But his Sept. 23 report will likely be presented "in camera," meaning reporters and members of the public will be barred from the meeting room, Aaron said.

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