Lawyer disbarred over threatening emails

​ A recent decision of the Law Society Tribunal has revoked the licence of an Ontario lawyer on the basis of conduct unbecoming a barrister or solicitor and being ungovernable.

Lawyer disbarred over threatening emails
Brian Gover, who represented the LSUC in the case, says failure to appear for his hearing ‘appeared to be the last act of defiance’ on the part of Joel Sumner.
A recent decision of the Law Society Tribunal has revoked the licence of an Ontario lawyer on the basis of conduct unbecoming a barrister or solicitor and being ungovernable.


The panel, an independent adjudicative tribunal within the Law Society of Upper Canada, ruled in accordance with the LSUC’s recommendations from a hearing in July, which found tax lawyer Joel Sumner should be disbarred for repeated threats to John Kochis, a chief deputy district attorney in San Bernardino, Calif., as well as toward the LSUC and the Law Society Tribunal, the tribunal agreed in its Sept. 26 ruling.


“Mr. Sumner’s conduct brings discredit on the legal profession,” reads the decision. “His threatening and harassing communications are criminal in nature. The communications reflect adversely on his trustworthiness and fitness as a lawyer. The manner in which he made them, and their content, undermine the administration of justice. His conduct falls within the definition of ‘conduct unbecoming’ . . .”


For Brian Gover of Stockwoods LLP, one of the lawyers for the LSUC, Sumner’s failure to appear for his hearing “appeared to be the last act of defiance on the part of Mr. Sumner.”


“It was striking that with his history and experience prosecuting major cases that Mr. Kochis was fearful of Mr. Sumner,” Gover adds.

Sumner responded to Legal Feeds by stating he would “not to be complicit with” the LSUC.

Sumner grew up in Toronto, but he went to law school in California, where he was called to the bar in 2006. He moved back to Toronto in 2009 and was admitted to the Ontario bar in 2012, where he worked as a tax lawyer until the LSUC suspended his licence on an interlocutory basis in April last year.


There is an outstanding warrant for his arrest in California, where he was charged with “27 criminal counts of threatening death and related offences,” reads the decision. He was disbarred in 2012, though the decision goes on to note that “neither the criminal charges nor the disbarment proceedings have caused him to stop his threats.”


In Canada, he faces charges of uttering death threats and criminal harassment. After the LSUC began investigating Sumner’s conduct in the United States, his threats and harassment extended to staff at both the LSUC and the Law Society Tribunal.


Sumner’s threats continued for six years — beginning in September 2011 up until as late as July of this year. He did not attend any of the hearings against him.


The decision calls Sumner’s prolonged and repeated misconduct “most serious.”


“The protection of the public, and its confidence in the legal profession, require that he not remain a licensee of the Law Society,” states the decision.


It goes on to note that there are no mitigating factors against revocation — no character evidence, no evidence of remorse or a willingness to be governed — but there is “every indication that the misconduct will recur.”


While there was some medical evidence that Sumner may suffer from a mental health issue, the decision states: “It does not assist.” The LSUC retained a psychiatrist to provide an independent assessment, but the psychiatrist was unable to form an opinion because Sumner declined an in-person assessment and refused to authorize the psychiatrist to review medical records or speak to those who knew him well.


“As a result, we do not have sufficient evidence that a medical condition might explain the misconduct.”


 In 2007, Sumner was arrested for battery and vandalism after an altercation with his roommate, according to a Request to Admit filed with the law society. The charges were later dropped after an arrangement with the district attorney that Sumner would make a donation to a woman’s shelter.


Sumner then filed a motion in 2009 for a “declaration of factual innocence” and Kochis dealt with the motion on behalf of the district attorney’s office. The motion was granted in 2010.


In 2011, Sumner then sent Kochis an email threatening his wife, and he later made other threats of violence. In 2014, he sent an email copying a webmaster of the Hells Angels inviting the motorcycle gang to arrest Kochis and to use “all lawful force to secure the prisoner, including lethal force” if he resisted.


One of the emails Sumner sent to Kochis said, “You are a tyrant and I encourage anybody to blow a hole through your head and rid this world of a gangster and a piece of garbage.”


He also sent a number of emails to the law society informing them of his desire to arrest and harm Kochis and threatening harm to anybody who attempted to help him.


While technically the panel’s ruling is open to appeal, “it would be difficult to understand the basis on which he could successfully do so,” Gover says.


The Sept. 26 decision notes that Sumner’s Ontario trial for uttering death threats and criminal harassment is scheduled for February 2018.

Updated Oct. 4, 2017 to add comment from Joel Sumner.

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