Manitoba lawyer investigated for fee irregularities in residential school cases

A Winnipeg lawyer has been suspended by the Law Society of Manitoba until he can face a hearing on allegations that he took more money in fees from residential school survivors than he was entitled to.

Howard Tennenhouse, who had well over 100 former residential school clients, was suspended on Jan. 11. The allegations relate to around 50 clients.

Payouts to victims, which average around $100,000, are administered by the Indian Residential Schools Independent Assessment Process. Lawyers typically receive a 15-per-cent fee from the federal government on top of the award made, but they can apply to increase fees by up to an additional 15 per cent, which comes out of the client’s money.

“This lawyer would make an application in some of these cases for a higher payment, and the allegation is that, regardless of whether or not he was successful, he would take the higher payment anyway,” says Allan Fineblit, the law society’s CEO.

Finebilt says Tennenhouse was charged in early 2011, and had restrictions placed on his practice. The law society moved to suspend him when he stopped paying back the money to victims, a condition on his right to continue practising. Finebilt says the law society’s compensation fund will cover any shortfall.

“No clients will be out any money,” he says.

A hearing on the charges, which have not been proved, is due the third week of February.

It’s not the first time Tennenhouse, a 1980 call, has been in trouble at the law society. In 2010, he received a 70-day suspension after pleading guilty to eight charges of misconduct related to trust accounting breaches.

Tennenhouse is just one of number of lawyers involved in residential school cases whose conduct is being examined. See “Lawyers’ fees under scrutiny.”

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