Judges said that Joe Groia was “unprofessional” in his successful defense of Bre-X vice-president John Felderhof against fraud charges in the late 1990s
The Canadian Press – TORONTO – A prominent securities lawyer and the society that regulates the legal profession in Ontario are bound for court in the latest round of an epic battle started in the aftermath of the billion-dollar Bre-X mining fiasco in the late 1990s.
Closely watched by the legal profession, the contest pits Joe Groia, who successfully defended the only person charged in the history-making securities scandal, against the Law Society of Upper Canada.
“There have been few cases, if any, where the (society) has been so dogged and determined to maintain a position that was so damaging to the public and profession as a whole,” Groia argues in court documents.
How he behaved during the tumultuous Bre-X courtroom odyssey is what’s at issue. The society maintains Groia misbehaved to such an extent in defending Bre-X vice-president John Felderhof that he warranted a two-month suspension and ordered him to pay $247,000 in costs — reduced on initial appeal in March to one month and $200,000.
Among other things, the panel faulted the Toronto lawyer for repeatedly slagging the prosecution.
It also cited critical comments made by several judges involved in the labyrinthine hearings against Felderhof, a geologist, who was ultimately acquitted of fraud. One judge said Groia was “prone to rhetorical excess and sarcasm” and “petulant invective,” while another said he was engaged in “guerilla theatre.”
Groia denies any unprofessional conduct, maintaining he was simply defending his client against a no-holds-barred prosecution.
The punishment handed him, he argues, follows an “unprecedented and dangerous” disciplinary proceeding and should be set aside or, at the very least, new hearings ordered.
Most importantly, he asserts, if the society’s sanctions stand, it could have a chilling effect on the vigour with which lawyers defend their clients in tough cases and could undermine the independence of the courts.
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