The British Columbia Supreme Court has appointed a retired judge to oversee the transfer of residential schools victims to new lawyers following a highly critical review of Calgary firm Blott & Co.’s practices last week.
The job of distributing Blott & Co.’s clients to new counsel will fall to retired B.C. Supreme Court justice Ian Pitfield. He’ll have the task of setting up a program to “expeditiously transfer” the files to other qualified law firms after B.C. Supreme Court
Justice Brenda Brown banned lawyer David Blott and his firm from continuing to represent residential schools victims in the independent assessment process stemming from the residential schools settlement. In the meantime, other associated lawyers at Blott & Co. will be able to keep working on the files “if affiliated with another firm where supervision is available,” Brown ruled.
The decision follows a critical report by the court monitor that has been looking into the firm’s practices. It found, among other things, that 77 Blott claimants received more than 380 loans from various lenders. Taking all fees and interest into account, 73 per cent of the loans from one lender exceeded the criminal rate of 60 per cent per year, the monitor’s report found.
The report, Brown noted, expressed concerns about “Blott’s role in ensuring that the companies making loans were fully repaid through the use of ‘directions to pay’ from the proceeds of compensation awards under the settlement agreement.” The settlement agreement, she added, prohibits assignments of compensation awards from the independent assessment process.
Another major area of concern related to the involvement of Honour Walk Ltd., a company that provided form-filler services in relation to Blott & Co.’s residential schools practice. Among the findings of “mishandling of client documents,” the court noted a few “particularly egregious examples” noted by the monitor:
- A document in which a claimant’s signature appears to have been appended to a personal information request form by affixing a signed piece of paper with tape.
- The use by Honour Walk of several printed forms with pre-witnessed signatures.
As a result, Brown also prohibited Honour Walk from future participation in the administration of the settlement agreement.
For his part, Blott fought the prohibition order on the grounds that his conduct didn’t meet the high standard necessary for the court to remove him as counsel. He also submitted that the monitor’s recommendation to remove him was more of a lawyer discipline issue and therefore a function left to law societies in their roles as regulators.
Brown, however, disagreed. “Concurrent jurisdiction over lawyers, shared between superior courts and law societies, is an ordinary aspect of the dual identities of lawyers as officers of the court and members of a regulated profession,” she wrote. “The jurisdiction of one does not oust that of the other.”