Upon receipt of the first complaint of possible mishandling of trust monies, the Law Society took immediate action to freeze Mr. Chojnacki’s trust and general accounts and to put co-signing controls on any new trust accounts and general accounts, pending completion of its investigation and any prosecution.
In 2009, two years after the Law Society began its prosecution of Mr. Chojnacki, the Law Society received new information of possible mishandling of trust monies. The Law Society immediately required Mr. Chojnacki to cease practising based on an undertaking, until the investigation, prosecution and any appeals had been concluded.
During all investigations, the Law Society conducts ongoing risk assessments and considers whether and what interim measures may be required to address the risk. Since the Chojnacki case, the Law Society has enhanced its powers to address risk.
In 2006, the Law Society sought legislative amendments that clarified the test for interlocutory suspensions and that would permit the Law Society to implement the summary hearing process. These amendments came into force on May 1, 2007.
The Law Society’s Public Prosecution of Richard Chojnacki
The Law Society’s Notice of Application, which is a public document, was filed on October 31, 2007. Anyone who contacted the Law Society after that date inquiring about Mr. Chojnacki’s discipline history would have been provided with this information.
Weeks in advance of the first scheduled hearing date, November 17, 2008, the Law Society posted a summary of the allegations in the Notice of Application on our public website under “Current Hearings” and re-posted it each time the hearing resumed. This same summary was provided by the Law Society to the media.
All discipline hearings at the Law Society are open to the public.
Over the last several years, the Law Society has taken steps to ensure that information about its regulatory action is even more accessible to the public by posting all the information on the Law Society’s website. The Law Society currently posts:
• Regulatory Notices on the Regulatory Notices page
• Hearing dates on the Current Hearings page
• Decisions and Orders on the Orders and Dispositions pages and on the Lawyer/Paralegal Directory
• Undertakings on the Law Society’s Lawyer/Paralegal Directory
• Trusteeships on the Law Society’s Lawyer/Paralegal Directory
• Summary Hearing suspensions on the Law Society’s Lawyer/Paralegal Directory and on the Law Society’s 'Orders and Dispositions' pages
• Interlocutory suspension on the Law Society’s Lawyer/Paralegal Directory and on the 'Orders and Dispositions' pages.
The Law Society’s Co-operation with Police
In the Chojnacki case, the Law Society was in contact with the police and provided the information it was legally permitted to provide. The Law Society also encouraged persons who contacted the Law Society to report to the police.
The Law Society is a regulatory body, not a criminal investigative body. As a regulator of legal services, the Law Society receives confidential and privileged information belonging to clients. In law, the client has the right to keep this information confidential and only the client can permit its disclosure. For this reason, there are confidentiality protections for the information both under the Law Society Act and the common law. Within the limits permitted by law, the Law Society co-operates with law enforcement and encourages the reporting of suspected criminal activities to the police.
The Law Society’s website and complaint form encourage complainants to report potential criminal misconduct to the police. Our investigators also encourage complainants to report to the police.
Police can ask for information in the Law Society's possession that might assist in a specific criminal investigation. The Law Society will provide any information it can as permitted under the law. The Law Society regularly works with police and other authorities on these issues.
Discipline hearings are public and any evidence filed in public can be accessed by the police, or by any member of the public.
Where the police consider it necessary, the criminal law also has search warrant provisions by which police may directly access information in lawyers’ offices, subject to protections for the confidentiality of client information. The Law Society has actively worked with the Ministry of the Attorney General to establish a protocol that supports such searches.