Disciplined lawyer wants LSUC to hold sentencing circle

An aboriginal lawyer who admitted misconduct charges brought by the Law Society of Upper Canada wants the regulator to convene a sentencing circle before deciding his penalty.

Sarnia, Ont. lawyer Terence John Robinson, a member of the Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve, pleaded guilty to aggravated assault in 2009 related to an incident in 2007.

That guilty plea led to an admission that he had committed conduct unbecoming a licencee of the LSUC. According to a hearing panel’s decision issued earlier this year, Robinson agreed to cease practising while the case unfolded, but now wants to return to his criminal law practice representing aboriginal clients.

In written submissions filed last month, Robinson’s lawyer Jonathan Rudin claimed the case was an appropriate one for the law society’s first ever sentencing circle.

“The respondent believes that the holding of a sentencing circle will allow the hearing panel to obtain a deeper understanding of the Aboriginal community’s response to the finding of conduct unbecoming a licencee,” Rudin wrote.

But in her submissions, law society discipline counsel Deborah McPhadden urged the panel to ignore the idea, claiming Robinson’s case would not have met the guidelines for sentencing circles in criminal matters because of the seriousness of his offence. In any case, she wrote that they have no place in professional discipline.

“Not only should a sentencing circle not be held in this particular case, generally speaking sentencing circles have no place in law society discipline matters. The Law Society Act requires the hearing panel to make determination of penalty. While the hearing panel can of course receive evidence on penalty, the hearing panel must make the penalty determination,” she wrote. “The opinion of anyone besides the hearing panel as to appropriate penalty is irrelevant; were another lawyer or member of the public to testify at the hearing it would be inappropriate for them to opine on penalty.”

But Rudin said there are no definite rules on when it is appropriate to hold a sentencing circle, and said convening one “is in no way fettering or limiting” the panel’s ability “to determine the appropriate response in the respondent’s case.”

“Sentencing circles and its variants do not take away decision-making powers from those who are vested with that power. They do not devolve that power to the circle. Circles allow for more informed input by the decision-maker,” Rudin wrote.

After his guilty plea in court, Robinson was sentenced to time served plus one year’s probation for his role in a 2007 fight that ended with the stabbing of another man.

Robinson denied stabbing the man himself, claiming he was a bystander as two other people fought the victim, but admitted being a party to the assault after calling for help to settle the dispute.

The law society panel has yet to decide on the sentencing circle issue.

Update: Oct. 16. Corrected wrong name in one paragraph.

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