Joseph Peter Paul Groia v. Law Society of Upper Canada

(Ontario) (Civil) (By Leave)




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Law of professions – Discipline – Barristers and solicitors – Administrative law – Judicial review – Standard of review – Law Society allegations of professional misconduct for in-court statements upheld by Law Society Appeal Panel and lower courts – Lawyer challenging decision – Whether Law Society can discipline lawyer for professional misconduct arising out of lawyer’s submissions to judge in open court, while acting for client – Whether it is constitutionally permissible for reviewing court to defer to Law Society panel decision regarding professional misconduct in courtroom when conduct is not faulted or complained about by presiding judge.

The applicant, Mr. Groia is a barrister and solicitor licensed by the Law Society to practise law in Ontario. As an experienced securities litigation counsel, he defended the accused in the case of R. v. Felderhof, 2007 ONCJ 345. The accused was acquitted of all charges.

The litigation was complex and protracted. From the onset, disputes arose between counsel which escalated to the point of Mr. Groia alleging serious prosecutorial misconduct by the Ontario Securities Commission (“OSC”) prosecutors. After 70 days of trial, the OSC applied for judicial review in the Superior Court. They argued that Mr. Groia had engaged repeatedly in uncivil conduct in violation of the Law Society’s Rules of Professional Conduct and that, by failing to control this unacceptable conduct, the trial judge lost jurisdiction. This application was dismissed and the matter was remitted back to the trial judge for continuation of the trial. The OSC appealed this decision to the Court of Appeal and it was dismissed.

After the trial had concluded, the respondent, Law Society of Upper Canada initiated disciplinary proceedings against Mr. Groia alleging that he had engaged in professional misconduct during his defence of his client. Neither the trial judge nor the OSC prosecutors complained to the Law Society about Mr. Groia’s conduct.

The Hearing Panel concluded that the Law Society had proven all its professional misconduct allegations against Mr. Groia. It imposed a penalty of two months’ suspension of his licence and a reprimand. On appeal, the Appeal Panel allowed Mr. Groia’s appeal in part. It affirmed the findings of professional misconduct; however, it varied the length of Mr. Groia’s licence suspension to one month. On appeal, the Divisional Court dismissed the appeal. The further appeal to the Court of Appeal was dismissed with Brown J.A. dissenting.

Lower Court Rulings

February 2, 2015
Ontario Superior Court of Justice

162-14, 2015 ONSC 686
Lawyer’s appeal of misconduct finding dismissed. Law Society’s cross-appeal of penalty and costs dismissed.
June 14, 2016
Court of Appeal for Ontario

C60520, 2016 ONCA 471
Appeal dismissed.