Three strikes and he’s out

A former lawyer who resigned from practice during his articling and was later disbarred after his conviction for fraud has been denied a third shot at the profession after a hearing panel of the Law Society of Upper Canada decided he was not of good character.

Dennis-Gwyn Gross told a hearing panel he had turned his life around since serving a five-month jail term in 2000 for defrauding various members of the public.

His younger girlfriend left him after his arrest and he had been working as a material handler at a Niagara Falls Value Village since his release. He also looked after his mother in the home they shared until her death at the age of 98 in 2011.

Gross told the panel his low wages had prevented him from paying restitution to his victims or obtaining a pardon for his conviction, but aimed to remedy both if allowed to return to practice in the area of criminal law.

“I believe I can be a lawyer again and contribute meaningfully to society,” Gross said at his hearing in November.

Gross first ran into trouble with the law society in the mid-1980s when he was given permission to resign his student membership during his articling year after being found guilty of misconduct for attempting to remove a file from his articling firm for himself and providing legal services without supervision.

In 1987, a new panel decided he could be called to the bar as long as he promised not to practise as a sole practitioner for at least a year afterwards.

Then in July 2000, Gross pleaded guilty to five counts of fraud, including against clients. He received an eight-month conditional sentence in addition to the five months he had spent in jail awaiting trial. He was also disbarred in that year, after the law society found he had misappropriated almost $10,000 from the trust funds of 13 clients.

A more lucrative scam involved transferring the title of his mother’s home to himself and then registering a series of mortgages and forged discharges on the property. Mortgagees claimed more than $400,000 in civil actions against Gross, while the judge in his criminal trial ordered him to pay restitution of $300,000. Gross managed to raise $200,000 of that total from the sale of the house and other property.

Gross then made his application for readmission in 2007, admitting that he hadn’t been able to afford any formal continuing legal education in the intervening years. According to the panel’s decision, he told them he “occasionally read the Ontario Reports and some legal decisions on the Internet.” Gross admitted he was not competent to practise criminal law without some more CLE, but said he was willing to work under a mentorship agreement.

The panel was impressed by Gross’ “emphatic and heart felt remorse,” but expressed concerns about his rehabilitation. He only began treatment in June 2011 after the death of his mother, and his doctor was unable to provide assurances on how Gross might react if faced with future temptation. The panel also noted Gross’ lack of effort to repay the money he still owes to the financial institutions he defrauded.

“While we are of course sympathetic to his financial situation since his disbarment . . . the fact remains that there is no evidence of any effort to repay even nominal or small amounts of the debts that were created by the applicant’s fraudulent conduct,” reads the decision.

“While a sufficient time span has elapsed to justify a reassessment of his character, and indeed he has expressed genuine remorse for his earlier actions, we have balanced those factors against the nature and extent of his previous misconduct and what we conclude is insufficient evidence at the hearing before us of rehabilitative steps and other actions on his part to satisfy us of his present good character. It may be that he will be able to make a stronger case at a later date.”

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