May 12, 2015
Emotions run high at penalty hearing for disgraced refugee lawyer
By: Rachel Mendleson
Tempers flared at a penalty hearing on Monday for a Toronto lawyer who was suspended for five months after admitting to professional misconduct in representing more than a dozen Roma refugee claimants.
Several supporters of the Roma — deported after their requests for asylum were denied — interrupted Viktor Hohots’ hearing at the Law Society of Upper Canada to oppose a proceeding they said was “without justice.”
“You are standing here disparaging the witnesses who cannot be here. That’s not right,” Mary Jo Leddy, of the refugee settlement agency Romero House, told Hohots’ lawyer, Mitchell Worsoff, during his submissions.
As she stormed out of the law society hearing, another onlooker added: “They’re not here to defend themselves. This is completely without justice,” and followed her out.
Worsoff drew ire when he referred by name to the high-profile case of Jozsef Pusuma, his wife, Timea Daroczi, and daughter Viktoria, whom Hohots represented.
Citing apparent inconsistencies in the story the family presented before the refugee board, Worsoff argued that, in general, Hohots was not solely responsible for the deportation of his clients whose claims were denied.
“They had their chance,” Worsoff said of the refugee claimants. “I don’t want this to fall on my client’s shoulders. I don’t want him to be castigated because certain people got deported.”
Hohots took on hundreds of Roma refugee claimants, with a minuscule 1.2 per cent success rate.
After seeking sanctuary in a Toronto church for three years, Pusuma and his family were deported in December to Budapest, where they are now in hiding.
Hohots admitted to professional misconduct in relation to 17 complaints from Roma refugee claimants, including failing to serve his clients to the standard of a competent lawyer and failing to directly supervise non-lawyers on his staff tasked with preparing refugee claims.
After reaching an agreement on the penalty with the law society prosecutor, Hohots was suspended from practising as a lawyer for five months, beginning July 1, and barred from practising refugee law for two years, beginning Dec. 1. He must also complete a practice review, and was ordered to pay $15,000 in legal fees.
Worsoff said his client had “bit off more than he could chew,” and was remorseful for his actions.
On Monday, Legal Aid Ontario — which had taken the unusual step of asking for standing at the Hohots hearing — and three other advocacy groups who had also sought standing were denied.
Afterward, prominent constitutional lawyer Mary Eberts, who had sought status to represent the Canadian Romani Alliance, Roma Centre and Romero House, said she is “more convinced than ever” of the need for “massive reform” of the way lawyers represent refugees.
“This case has revealed some huge problems with the refugee determination system,” Eberts said. “We were trying to give this community a voice here in a small part of that system to try and get some justice, and we were not able to do that.”
Eberts said the penalty “does not address the many, many problems . . . evident here.”
Hohots has no prior disciplinary record, had “cooperated fully through the law society investigation” and had shown remorse, law society prosecutor Lisa Freeman said.
Worsoff said Hohots plans to return to refugee law when he is free to do so, in December 2017.
With files from Nicholas Keung