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Judge gives lawyers drubbing over peace bond appeal

|Written By Michael McKiernan

A Ontario Superior Court judge has halted a peace bond application made by four lawyers against their former boss after the Crown expressed concern about the sprawling feud’s use of court resources.

A justice of the peace dismissed the application by Ian Little, Dianna Morello, John Vettese, and Piera Segreto against Frank Loreto in November last year, but the four lawyers appealed, prompting an intervention from the Crown. Then on Aug. 27, Ontario Superior Court Justice Peter Lauwers granted the Crown’s request for a stay of proceedings.

Little, Morello, Vettese, and Segreto were once associates at Loreto’s personal injury firm, before an acrimonious split in 2008. An explosive meeting over the four lawyers’ proposed partnership agreement ended with their dismissal as an angry Loreto reacted to what he called an “ambush.”

After the four lawyers formed their own firm, Loreto launched a $3-million claim against the new firm over approximately 200 clients whose files were transferred to the new firm. Loreto also launched a series of small claims court actions, Superior Court assessments, and delivered accounts to most of the transferred clients, before another Superior Court judge stepped in last year to streamline the assessment process.

But it was Loreto’s attempt to personally serve his four former employees with documents that prompted their peace bond application, alleging Loreto engaged in threatening behaviour during the encounter.

After three full days of evidence, Justice of the Peace Roberto Zito dismissed all allegations against Loreto on Nov. 10, 2011, finding that although he “was very loud and obnoxious in his behaviour, [he] never pronounced any direct threats, nor attempted to carry out any of the alleged threats.”

Zito also expressed his concern that “on several occasions the parties, in way or another, did very little to avoid confrontation.”

“This court is puzzled, since the applicants and the defendant are officers of the Court, and as such they all should lead by example, setting a standard of proper conduct and behaviour and to do everything they can to stay apart from each other at all times, especially during this time of civil law suits,” Zito went on, according to a transcript.

After the four lawyers indicated their intention to appeal, the Crown stepped in, announcing its view that there was no legal error in Zito’s decision, and its intention to stay the appeal, in a letter to Ontario Superior Court Justice Edwin Minden, the trial co-ordinator for the Newmarket courthouse.

“It is the Crown’s respectful view that to further pursue the matter in this forum would be an unwise and unnecessary use of resources, especially given the multiplicity of proceedings that have already occurred and the inherent professional obligations of the parties towards one another,” wrote assistant Crown attorney David Moull in his June 18 letter.

Minden was more withering in his assessment when the parties appeared before him two weeks later, saying he had never heard of an appeal from a failed peace bond application in his 35 years on the bench and at the bar. Peace bond cases in his day lasted “20 minutes . . . maybe an hour,” he said, not three days.

“To allow an appeal to go forward in the circumstances outlined in all three of these filings would be a very, very unwise and frankly injudicious use of court resources, particularly so where the people involved are all lawyers, are all people who, quite frankly, should know better and, last but not least, given that, as I understand it, other routes to resolve differences are not only available, but have been pursued and are being pursued,” Minden said, according to a transcript.

“I am asking all the parties to take a deep breath, to reconsider and frankly to end this right now. I am not hearing any of the parties today, you are here today to here me.”

Despite Minden’s plea, another hearing was scheduled before Lauwers on Aug. 27, where he stayed the appeal on a motion from the Crown.


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