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LSBC gives law student with sketchy academic history a second chance

|Written By Heather Gardiner

A law student with a history riddled with academic fraud has been given a second chance to enter the profession by the Law Society of British Columbia.

The student’s first instance of cheating occurred in 1995 during the first year of his sociology degree at the University of British Columbia. He was accused of altering his math exam after it was marked and handed back to him, which he then took to the instructor and argued for a higher grade. Consequently, he failed the course and was suspended from UBC for one year.

In 2000, the student completed his sociology degree and applied to have the suspension deleted from his academic record, which was granted by UBC. That same year, he was admitted to UBC’s Faculty of Law.

Then in 2002, he was accused of plagiarizing a paper in law school and suspended for 18 months. During his suspension, the law school found out about the math exam incident. The law society’s ruling states that the studdent claimed he didn’t cheat on the exam, but the teaching assistant had a language barrier that created a misunderstanding.

When the student applied to the law society’s articling program in 2004, he admitted to the plagiarism incident during law school but he didn’t reveal the math exam incident or the resulting suspension. However, when the law society inquired about his activities between the first and second years of his undergrad, he admitted to the math exam incident.

In 2005, he withdrew his articling application. The student finished his LLB in 2006 and went on to obtain his LLM at UBC.

Over the course of the law society panel’s investigation into this case, it determined the student had also plagiarized an honours thesis that he submitted in 2000 towards his sociology degree. The law society obtained a copy of the thesis through a freedom-of-information request. He argued that the thesis obtained by the law society was not the one that he submitted, so, in 2011, the panel asked him to present a copy of his thesis. He explained that his family had moved in 2003 and all of his records were in a state of disarray in the garage. However, upon learning that the law society had obtained a copy of the thesis, he managed to turn up a copy in early 2012, states the ruling.

In 2010, the law student reapplied to the articling program.

The hearing took place March 26-27 of this year. Following all of the evidence regarding the thesis, the law society panel concluded: “Despite the majority’s serious concerns about the applicant’s evidence on this issue, and on his admitted history of academic fraud and deception, which he says ended in 2002, and despite his admitted deception and lack of forthright disclosure in his declaration in support of his 2004 application for enrolment, there is no evidence before us that is inconsistent with the applicant’s evidence on this thesis issue. There is only suspicion and doubt.”

The student also submitted several reference letters, including one from professor Joe Weiler, who worked extensively with him during his time at law school, which the panel described as “particularly compelling.”

“[A] strong recommendation from a law professor based on that much work over those many years must be taken as compelling evidence of the applicant’s current good character and fitness,” said the panel.

Merchant Law Group LLP’s Jane Ann Summers, who is the applicant’s intended articling principal, also provided a reference letter. Merchant Law partner William Slater, who worked closely with the student as a researcher at the firm, said he “has proven to be a diligent, professional worker.” The firm offered him an articling position in November 2010, which still remains open.

Subsequently, the law society panel ordered he be enrolled in the articling program.

“We also find that in the seven years that have passed since his last wrongdoing, his reputation and standing in the eyes of lawyers and academics that he has worked with has risen to meet the standards required under [s.] 19(1) for enrolment into the admission program,” the panel wrote.

It should be noted that Bencher Tony Wilson, the panel member who wrote the minority decision, disagreed with the majority’s decision about the thesis, stating the student’s “evidence on this serious issue defies credulity.”

Robyn Crisanti, manager of communications and public relations at the B.C. law society, says in disciplinary cases, the panel is looking for a demonstrated change of character.

“In this case, the panel made a point of noting that had this application come before them seven years ago, closer to the time when the cheating had occurred, it’s highly unlikely that this candidate would have been able to move forward. It’s the combination of what the infraction was, the history, but also what the candidate has done to redeem themselves in the time since then.”

She says the panel acknowledged that he was young and made mistakes, as we all do, but “certainly cheating and any form of plagiarism is considered extremely serious.”

As a result, the panel set out several conditions for the applicant should he be called to the bar, which include:

“1. During the applicant’s first five years following his call to the bar, he must not practise as a sole practitioner nor as in-house counsel for a private or public corporation and must instead practise within a law firm or within a legal department of a branch of government in which there are at least three other full-time practising lawyers in attendance.

2. At the expiration of 12 months following the applicant’s call to the bar, he must submit to a practice review, at his expense, by the law society and comply with any recommendations or directives of the Practice Standards Committee that result from such practice review.

3. The applicant must submit to a similar practice review on similar conditions, at his expense, at the expiration of 24 months after his call to the bar.”

Although the panel has given the student a second chance, he’s not completely off the hook, says Crisanti.

“They were convinced that at least at this phase, he can move forward. However, a year from now when he finishes his articles, there does have to be a report from his principal and if he wants to practise there are conditions. So he’s not really getting off scot-free per se, he will be monitored,” she says.

Also see, "Law school star makes third attempt at becoming a lawyer."

Editor's note: March 27, 2013. The student's name has been removed as it has also been removed from the law society's database.

  • RE: LSBC gives law student with sketchy academic history a second chance

    Jonathan Westphal
    What I don't see anywhere in this article is any indication that [the student] has taken any responsibility for his actions until forced to. The fact that he only "found" his thesis once he was informed the Society had a copy in its possession is telling. I can understand forgiving someone a single instance of misjudgment, but what we have here is a persistent pattern of dishonest behaviour, with the Society essentially being asked to take a leap of faith that this individual has turned over a new leaf. I certainly hope he has, but remain skeptical.
  • Unbelievable Decision

    David Goar
    This decision exemplifies the truth of the observation that in LSBC decisions it matters far more who you are, and who you are perceived to be, than what you did. This applicant is a three times cheater. His conduct is not anamoulous but indicative of a massive flaw in character. Despite the opinions of the professor and the prospective principal, who vouched for him, this person should not have been admitted. His admission, in fact, renders the entire process utterly meaningless.

    Although I believe in forgiveness and affording second chances to those who have made uncharacteristic mistakes, the offenses here, viewed objectively, are clearly indicative of the presence of defects of character which must have real consequences. If they don't, we simply lend more credence to the widespread negative public opinions of the profession and the character of those that practice it.