Winnipeg lawyer disbarred for overcharging residential school clients

A Winnipeg lawyer has been disbarred after admitting he overcharged clients residential school clients to the tune of almost $1 million.

A Law Society of Manitoba panel revoked Howard Tennenhouse’s licence on Tuesday after he pleaded guilty to professional misconduct related to 55 of his more than 100 residential school cases.

Compensation to victims is administered by the Indian Residential Schools Independent Assessment Process, which also typically approves a 15-per-cent fee to lawyers on top of the award. Lawyers can apply to boost their fees by a further 15 per cent, which comes out of the client’s money.

According to an agreed statement of facts filed with the hearing, Tennenhouse billed clients for the full 15 per cent immediately, without waiting for approval from an adjudicator. In some cases, he took his cut even after the additional fees had been disallowed or after telling an adjudicator that he would be taking a smaller amount.

The total amount of money appropriated by Tennenhouse that was either disallowed or over the amount approved so far has reached $950,000, according to the agreed statement of facts.

That law society suspended Tennenhouse in January after he stopped paying back money to victims, a condition that had been placed on his right to continue practising. According to the agreed statement of facts, Tennenhouse was submitting applications on behalf of residential school victims as late as November 2011, despite telling the law society he had had no dealings with IAP claimants.

In addition to his disbarment, Tennenhouse was also ordered to pay $57,000 for the cost of the hearing.

According to the Winnipeg Free Press, Tennenhouse was in defiant mood after receiving his punishment, telling the paper his clients knew what he was doing.

“What I’m upset about is I had to (be) disbarred and slammed in the media as someone who was stealing from the Indians, when that’s not what I did,” Tennenhouse told the Free Press. “These individuals are not as vulnerable or as foolish as the law society seems to think because they are unsophisticated…I still have an excellent reputation on the reserves where I work.”

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