Law society suspends Vancouver lawyer who hired paroled murderer without proper vetting
VANCOUVER -- A Vancouver lawyer who specialized in compensation cases for residential school survivors has been suspended for one month by the Law Society of British Columbia.
In a joint submission with the law society in response to six allegations of professional misconduct against him, Stephen Bronstein "conditionally admitted" to four of them.
Bronstein admitted that he failed to adequately vet Ivon Johnny, a residential school survivor and paroled murderer, who Bronstein hired to help his clients with applications for compensation under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.
"More particularly, (Bronstein) failed to adequately investigate Mr. Johnny’s background, qualifications and suitability prior to employing Mr. Johnny to work with and have unsupervised access to his clients," according to the decision of the law society hearing panel in the matter.
Bronstein then failed to adequately address or investigate complaints made by his clients about Johnny, including that Johnny had allegedly demanded money from them without justification.
The panel notes that the complaints about Johnny are unproven.
"It is unknown whether any of the complaints made against Mr. Johnny were true, and thus whether (Bronstein)’s lack of due diligence caused any clients actual harm," according to the decision.
Bronstein also admitted to providing inadequate service to 17 clients and mishandling declarations his clients had signed.
The joint submission from Bronstein and the law society proposed a four-part punishment. In addition to the one-month suspension, Bronstein would agree to a practice review of his files opened after Jan. 1, 2017, a written commitment that he will not take on any "Sixties Scoop" claimants as clients, and $4,000 in costs.
The hearing panel agreed to the proposal, but noted that a more severe punishment would have been preferable.
One member of the panel, chair Karen L. Snowshoe, dissented with the majority's decision, calling the penalties "grossly inadequate."
The majority of the panel said it would be inclined to agree with her were it not for the fact that rejecting the proposal would have sent the case to a hearing, at which there would be "a real possibility" that Bronstein would receive no punishment at all.
"We therefore accept the parties’ proposal on the basis that, while otherwise unduly lenient, it comes within the range of fair and reasonable outcomes because, but for the Respondent’s conditional admission, the Law Society would have difficulty proving the alleged professional misconduct," the panel wrote in its decision.