Launch of defamation suit considered professional misconduct

A Waterloo, Ont., lawyer’s decision to launch a defamation lawsuit against a former client who complained about him to the law society constituted a professional misconduct, according to the regulator.

When a former client accused him of acting in conflict of interest, lawyer Williams Hoskinson brought an action against the client, Rodney Slagter, on the basis that he never acted for Slagter and his company. According to a Law Society of Upper Canada tribunal decision, Hoskinson did, in fact, act for Slagter and against him in the same mortgage matter.

“In our opinion, it is improper to commence defamation proceedings in order to affect consideration of a complaint by the law society. This is particularly true in this case because, contrary to the allegations made in the defamation action, Mr. Hoskinson did act for Mr. Slagter and Jannet Inc. as he subsequently conceded,” wrote tribunal chairman Malcolm Mercer.

“Mr. Hoskinson’s attempt to have the court determine the issue, that was for the Law Society to decide, was also improper. Issuing a demand letter threatening this defamation proceeding was equally improper. We conclude, as alleged, that commencing the defamation action was professional misconduct,” wrote Mercer.

The tribunal disbarred Hoskinson after finding him guilty of conflict of interest, acting against a former client, and attempting to subvert a law society investigation by misleading investigators. The lawyer had a history of professional misconduct, including acting in conflict of interest and failing to comply with an undertaking.

According to the ruling, Hoskinson settled his defamation action with Slagter on the condition that Slagter withdraw his complaint to the law society.

“[Hoskinson] then sought to have the Law Society investigation terminated on that basis and did not tell the truth until it became clear that he had been caught out,” said Mercer.

“Faced with investigation of his professional conduct, Mr. Hoskinson responded with falsehoods, fabrications and a legal attack on the complainant intended to subvert the investigation of his conduct. This is a serious failure that is also related to integrity, probity and trustworthiness,” Mercer added.

Hoskinson, who represented himself before the tribunal, says he will appeal the decision.

“I am appealing the decision and because of that I can’t really make a comment at this time,” he tells Legal Feeds.

According to an earlier decision, Hoskinson said his memory had failed him when he initially said he did not act for Slagter. He told the tribunal he had had a “brain freeze” and went into complete denial because Slagter also accused him of forging his signature, which he did not do.

The tribunal rejected that explanation: “As the evidence shows, Mr. Hoskinson repeatedly asserted that he had not acted for Mr. Slagter. His assertions were emphatic and made with the intention of denying Mr. Slagter’s complaint and discrediting Mr. Slagter,” Mercer wrote.

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