Gerry Laarakker, a sole practitioner in Vernon, B.C., went on the offensive after a client came to him with a $500 demand letter from Toronto lawyer Patrick Martin, writing on behalf of the Hudson’s Bay Co.
The letter warned the woman, whose daughter was involved in an alleged shoplifting incident, that she could be on the hook for an even higher claim for damages if she didn’t pay the settlement amount and HBC sued her for actual recovery costs associated with the incident, including detection, apprehension, and recovery of goods.
In a fax rebuffing the settlement offer, Laarakker accused Martin of being involved in a “scam.”
“Save the postage in the future and become a real lawyer instead! You must have harboured dreams of being a good lawyer at one point. Surely bullying people into paying some small amount of money is not what you went into law for. But then again, someone has to be at the bottom of the class,” he wrote.
In addition, Laarakker left a comment on an Internet discussion thread about a similar letter from Martin.
“This guy is the kind of lawyer that gives lawyers a bad name,” Laarakker wrote. “He is relying on intimidation and blackmail to get the lousy $500. Don’t pay him. I hate these sleazy operators.”
Following a complaint from Martin, an LSBC panel found Laarakker guilty of misconduct. In an interview with Law Times last October, the lawyer said he regretted his use of “undiplomatic language” in correspondence with Martin, but stood by criticism of his practice.
“I’ve been a lawyer for many years and I’ve never heard of this even going to Small Claims Court. I feel the public is being unduly intimidated. I feel perhaps my friends in Ontario are wrapping themselves in their legal robes and taking advantage of the naive and the embarrassed,” said Laarakker.
He said he was particularly upset because his client’s daughter suffered from an eating disorder, a problem that has touched his own family.
Now, in a Jan. 10 decision, the panel has ordered him to pay a $1,500 fine. The panel said the 67-year-old’s offence was mitigated by his clean disciplinary record and his apology to Martin after the misconduct finding. It also took into account his personal connection with his client.
“He felt personally offended by the steps that were being taken by the opposing lawyer. This personal connection increased the ire with which Mr. Laarakker responded to the other lawyer’s correspondence. While these facts do not justify his actions, they do speak to the reason that he took the steps that he did,” reads the panel’s decision.
Laarakker was also ordered to pay the law society $3,000 in costs for the two-day hearing.