Lawyer disbarred in California fighting to keep Ontario licence

A Toronto-based tax lawyer disbarred in California for moral turpitude is hoping for a different result after appearing in front of the Law Society of Upper Canada’s disciplinary tribunal to oppose an interlocutory motion to suspend his Ontario licence.

LSUC counsel Leslie Maunder brought the March 2 motion on the grounds there is significant risk to the public if sole practitioner Joel Allan Sumner is allowed to continue to practise during a conduct unbecoming investigation against him for allegedly sending threatening and harassing e-mails and phone calls.

“I think what’s most important is that the prosecutors no longer abuse their power,” says Sumner, who was self-represented at the LSUC hearing.

“I think I got the message to the tribunal about what these guys did to me down in California,” he adds. “They turned the justice system into a racket; obviously I don’t particularly want to get suspended, but I think if I cause a change, it’s worth it.”

Sumner made a motion to the tribunal panel, chaired by Malcolm Mercer with Sophie Martel and Andrew Oliver, to exclude the e-mail evidence against him on the grounds the statements it contained were made as a result of “torture and/or cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment.”

The motion to exclude evidence was dismissed by the panel and it reserved its decision on the suspension motion.

Sumner was disbarred in California in December 2014 when he failed to participate in the disciplinary proceeding there for sending threatening e-mails.

He was found to have committed moral turpitude after sending intimidating and threatening e-mails to San Bernardino County Chief Deputy District Attorney John Kochis and others about Kochis when he did not appear at the hearing to respond to the allegations.

According to the LSUC factum, Sumner is still facing 27 criminal charges with an outstanding warrant in relation to those emails in California.

“The threats underlying the criminal charges and disbarment occurred prior to the respondent obtaining his license to practise here in Ontario,” the factum states.

It goes on to say Sumner began sending threatening e-mails to Kochis as early as 2011, leading to criminal charges in February 2012 and his disbarment in 2014. He was called to the Ontario bar in January 2012.

Those e-mails include statements like: “When I go to California next I will arrest [sic]. If you resist I will kill you [sic] accordance with the law!!”; “You should die”; “I intend to arrest him and if he resists, I will kill him”; “I authorize the Hells Angels to act as my agent and arrest chief deputy district attorney John P. Kochis. If he resist [sic] the Angels may use all lawful force to secure the prisoner, including lethal force if allowed under the law.”

The factum states in early January of this year the LSUC obtained a phone call recording from the sheriff’s dispatch centre in San Bernardino County “of someone believed to be the respondent” making further explicit threats against Kochis.

The LSUC received another recording from the sheriff’s call centre from February with the caller stating it was Sumner, declaring Kochis under arrest, and “threatening to use all necessary force to effect the arrest, including lethal if lawful.”

Sumner says Kochis conspired to extort him, causing him pain and suffering through abuse of his public office position and leading to his e-mail responses.

“I signed this release involuntarily; he [Kochis] threatened me that if I don’t sign this release he’s going to withhold an official act and oppose my motion,” Sumner says, alleging Kochis sent him threatening e-mails as well.

“He engaged in all the elements of torture as I understand it.”

Sumner argued because the e-mails were sent as a result of his torture, the e-mail evidence should not be allowed.

According to the summary of facts, Sumner had been charged in California in 2007 with battery and vandalism against a roommate. Sumner signed an agreement of compromise, settlement and mutual release in 2010 releasing himself and the roommate from any further claims arising from the 2007 altercation. He was granted a declaration of factual innocence in 2010 after signing the mutual release.

According to the summary, at some point after signing the release, Sumner came to the conclusion that Kochis “knew” the allegations against him were based on lies and he had been coerced into signing the release. Sumner then began to accuse Kochis of criminal offences, including coercion and extortion, and sent e-mails to him or about him to others that eventually lead to his California disbarment.

Sumner argued he was effectively kidnapped by police when wrongfully arrested in 2007 with Kochis engaging in extortion and torture “by insisting on the settlement/release before agreeing to the Deceleration of Factual Innocence.” He says Kochis extorted him when Kochis forced him to sign the release in exchange for not opposing the motion for declaration of innocence.

While the LSUC states Sumner has practised in Toronto without apparent incident or complaint “at the same time, he faces serious criminal charges in California — for which he would be arrested if he returned — has been disbarred and is currently being prosecuted by us for making threats against Mr. Kochis and the prosecutor of the discipline charges in California.”

The additional tape recordings of phone calls secured by the LSUC earlier this winter include similar threats against Kochis.

Sumner also sent an e-mail to LSUC disciplinary counsel Maunder on Feb. 19 stating: “You are taking or withholding an official act for the purposes of comforting or insulating an extortionist who used coercion and crossed the line between public and private beneficiaries. Mr. Kochis is under arrest, if he so much moves an inch, I will consider my life to be in danger and I will pop two shots into the side of his head!”

The LSUC declined to comment as the decision is still under reserve.

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