(Lawyer Stephen Bronstein entering court, Feb 2013)
By Kathleen Martens
A Vancouver lawyer will keep all of his residential school compensation cases after turning his practice around.
Stephen Bronstein was at risk of losing the lucrative files after complaints were made to a Vancouver Supreme Court judge.
But Justice Brenda Brown made a decision that lets Bronstein see his remaining 150 compensation applications through to the end.
This is not how most of these cases have gone. Already, two lawyers have been disbarred and a third is facing a complaint before the law society in his province.
More are seeing their work reviewed by an investigator for the court, along with non-legal firms that wrongly charged residential school survivors for filling out their applications for compensation under the Independent Assessment Process (IAP).
Brown was concerned about the impact on survivors and their IAP applications if she kicked their lawyer out of the IAP, as she has done in the past.
Bronstein’s work was flagged for the court in late 2012 after some survivors complained about the alleged actions of a convicted killer on parole he employed to help them with their IAP paperwork.
Bronstein helped 1,400 residential school survivors apply for compensation for serious physical and sexual abuse suffered at the notorious former residential schools.
Some of his clients – who were described as unable to read or write – said parolee Ivon Johnny was harassing them for a cut of their compensation money and they feared for their safety. Three of them filed affidavits with the court alleging Johnny took between $10,000 and $50,000 from them.
But Bronstein told an investigator for the court he didn’t believe the accusations. He said he knew Johnny was on parole because he represented him as an IAP client. But after reading the parole decision he decided to hire Johnny at up to $50 an hour for a total of $180,000 from mid-2008 to mid-2012.
After the court became involved, Johnny’s parole was revoked but no new criminal charges were laid against him.
Justice Brown then put Bronstein’s work under supervision beginning in 2013 – at the lawyer’s expense.
After a bumpy start, the supervising lawyer recently reported that Bronstein and his associates had upped their game and improved the “manner in which Mr. Bronstein’s claims were proceeding.”
Brown acknowledged the improvement in her written decision obtained by APTN Investigates but noted the turnaround didn’t happen without “significant court intervention.”
Brown said this new way of doing things would benefit Bronstein’s remaining clients. Removing the lawyer and transferring his files to another lawyer would have seriously delayed his ongoing IAP cases.
He “has demonstrated that with continual supervision, (his firm) can provide service to its clients that is consistent with IAP best practices.”
Bronstein was ordered to reimburse the cost of the court-ordered investigation into his legal work. That amount has not yet been made public.
It was an extensive review that questioned a number of Bronstein’s practices. Some of those practices, said Brown, still trouble her even though Bronstein stopped doing them. She directed him to turn over more information about those practices for further review.
As for the three survivors who allege Johnny stole from them, Brown said they have the option of suing Bronstein.
“I direct that should Bronstein’s three clients who allege that Mr. Johnny took a portion of their settlement funds wish to pursue actions (whether jointly or individually), a trial or trials be conducted to determine Bronstein’s liability in that respect,” she wrote.