LAW SOCIETY OF UPPER CANADA RESPONSE TO VIKTOR HOHOTS’ PROFESSIONAL MISCONDUCT IN REPRESENTING ROMA ASYLUM SEEKERS
The Canadian Romani Alliance (Alliance) is pleased that Victor Hohots has admitted in an Agreed Statement of Facts to the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) to professional misconduct for failing to adequately represent Roma refugee asylum seekers in Canada. We are also satisfied that the LSUC has spent many hours investigating and proceeding with disciplinary action against Mr. Hohots. At the same time, the Alliance is deeply appalled by the apparent plea deal that was created between the LSUC and Hohots’ lawyer Mitchell Worsoff in return for the confession of negligence and misconduct. On Monday May 11, the LSUC Disciplinary Tribunal Panel agreed to the recommendations put forth by LSUC lawyers, Lisa Freeman and Nisha Dhanoa, for Mr. Hohots to receive a five month full suspension from practising law beginning July 1, 2015 and a two year prohibition from practicing refugee law beginning on December 1, 2015.
Ms. Freeman claimed that it would have been very difficult to prosecute Mr. Hohots on the charges of negligence and misconduct because the claimants from most of the 17 cases that the LSUC had investigated had already been deported back to Hungary. It is the Alliance’s view that the LSUC took an inappropriate length of time to investigate the negligence and misconduct complaints, which were made in 2011/2012. It was due to the extremely delayed complaint and investigation process that led to a weakened case against Mr. Hohots. This delayed, and in the Alliance’s opinion, resulted in a flawed investigation process that ultimately failed to adequately reconcile the incredible damage of Mr. Hohots’ actions. This includes the damages caused to the Ontario Legal Aid system, which incurred a cost of nearly $2 million dollars for legal representation that was inadequate and in most cases, non-existent.
What is more, Mr. Hohots’ misconduct has even broader implications. According to a recent Osgoode Law School research report, Mr. Hohots took on more Roma claims than any other Canadian refugee lawyer and that near 99% of his clients ended up having their claims considered either abandoned, withdrawn or rejected. These results led to suspicion of the legitimacy of Roma refugee claims by the Canadian government, and in particular, Citizenship and Immigration Canada. As a result, Mr. Hohots’ actions significantly contributed to undermining all Roma Refugees in Canada. The negative perception of Roma Refugees in Canada that has gained wide-spread appeal in Canadian society as a result of actions such as those of Mr. Hohots and Mr. Ezra Levant has been even articulated at the highest political levels in Canada, including by former Immigration Minister, Jason Kenney, who referred to Roma asylum claimants as “Bogus Refugees”. In 2012, Minister Kenney oversaw the creation of a new Designated Country of Origin policy, otherwise known as the ‘List of Safe Countries’ of which Hungary is now included. Countries with high rates of abandoned/withdrawn claims are “triggered” for inclusion on the DCO list.
It appears that Mr. Hohots’ negligence and misconduct was deeply entrenched in his law practice. He did not ever meet the vast majority of with his Roma clients. Mr. Jozsef Sarkoszi, his client recruiter/translator would be the main point of contact for the years preceding the Immigration Refugee Board (IRB) hearings. Evidence was routinely lost, documents were left un-translated and not submitted to the IRB, Personal Information Forms (PIFs) were done poorly and were often confused with other clients’ PIFs. Clients routinely received insufficient time to prepare prior to their hearings, where they were represented by one of the junior lawyers whom they had never once met prior to their IRB hearing. The LSUC has documented that many of these junior lawyers often quit working for Hohots because of the disorganization, negligence, and lack of supervision and autonomy of Mr. Jozsef Sarkoszi – Mr. Hohots’ client recruiter/ translator.
Incredibly, during the disciplinary hearing, Mr. Hohots’ lawyer Mitchell Worsoff claimed that Mr. Hohots was not responsible for the IRB rejections and that is was due to the clients’ lack of credibility that they lost their claim for asylum. One could easily draw a direct correlation between negligence and lack of perceived credibility on behalf of the IRB adjudicator who is trusting that the claimant had been properly serviced and prepared by their legal representative. The inherent bias favours the lawyer, as again exemplified by the LSUC disciplinary proceedings.
It is a basic human right in Canada that everyone can expect to be equal before and under the law and have the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination. The Alliance is of the view that basic human rights safeguards enshrined in the Canadian constitutional fabric can only be maintained if professional misconduct by those who are supposed to uphold those constitutional values Canadians hold so dearly are dealt with appropriately. In Mr. Hohots’ case, given the severity of his misconduct and the associated consequences on the lives of so many Roma people and their families, the Alliance called for the complete revocation of Mr. Hohots’ licence to practice law in Canada.
With the help of prominent constitutional lawyer, Mary Eberts, the Canadian Romani Alliance, along with Romero House, sought intervener status in Hohots’ disciplinary hearing to share real stories and voices from the people who had been directly impacted by Mr. Hohots’ negligence and professional misconduct. We were prepared to share a Victim Impact Statement consisting of stories from 20 of his former clients with whom he had never taken the time to meet and who all ended up losing their refugee claims, and were ultimately deported to their country. The LSUC clearly sided with Mr. Hohots’ lawyer in rejecting the unprecedented application for intervener status submitted by Legal Aid Ontario, and by Mary Eberts on behalf of the Canadian Romani Alliance and Romero House.
In the end, Mr. Hohots’ walked away with a minimum punishment and the LSUC managed to evade having to acknowledge their role in not providing any justice to the complaints. This was due to the inappropriate timeframe it took for the LSUC to initiate and compete their investigation. Unquestionably, if the Roma claimants had not all been deported, then the LSUC would have been in a better position to seek a punishment more fitting to the damage done. Moreover, if Mr. Hohots’ negligent conduct would have desisted sooner, fewer people would have been negatively impacted and Legal Aid Ontario would not have been continuing to pay for legal representation that was never provided by Mr. Hohots to his clients.
The ruling by the LSUC does not serve as a deterrent for those that exploit refugees or the Legal Aid system. In addition, the silencing of community voices during the disciplinary process is not conducive to transparency and ethical practices at the LSUC. It is the sincere hope that the LSUC will seek ways to improve its complaint process by being more responsive and accountability. Failing to rectify these issues will continue to ensure continued abuse of the system by lawyers who do not live up to the professional standards expected of them by the Canadian society.
Co-founder and Executive Director
Canadian Romani Alliance
Other information resources related to negligent legal representation received by Roma refugees
No Refuge: Hungarian Romani Refugee Claimants in Canada http://ssrn.com/abstract=2588058
 Beaudoin, J., Danch, J. & Rehaag, S. (2014). No Refuge: Hungarian Romani Refugee Claimants in Canada. Osgoode Hall Law Journal, forthcoming. Online Source: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2588058
Co-founder, Executive Director
CANADIAN ROMANI ALLIANCE
A United Romani Voice
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