WINNIPEG – Another lawyer has been slammed for his handling of an Indian Residential School case.
This time for using a piece of toilet paper to make a legal contract with a former residential school student.
The move was “rude and/or provocative,” the Law Society of Saskatchewan (LSA) said in a disciplinary decision recently posted to its website.
“The toilet paper agreement brought the profession and the administration of justice into disrepute,” the decision said.
Ron Cherkewich of Prince Albert was fined $500 and given a written reprimand. He was also ordered to pay the LSA’s investigative costs of $10,500.
The stunt happened in 2011 when Cherkewich represented a former student applying for compensation under the Independent Assessment Process (IAP). The process is quasi-judicial and requires former students to reveal physical, sexual and other serious abuse suffered while at school to an adjudicator.
The adjudicator, who is also a lawyer, assesses the sensitive testimony and determines financial damages.
In this case, the adjudicator asked to see the retainer agreement between Cherkewich and the claimant. When the lawyer refused, saying he “did not do” such agreements, the adjudicator asked a second time.
That’s when, the decision says Cherkewich bristled and left the private hearing room with his client. He returned alone and, the report says, handed over a piece of toilet paper with a handwritten agreement signed by him and his client.
The adjudicator told the disciplinary hearing that Cherkewich looked “kind of smug and happy.” But she was offended.
“It was very difficult for her to stay composed throughout the hearing as she felt disrespected and humiliated,” the decision said.
Cherkewich, a lawyer with more than 40 years of experience, said it was a “dumb joke” to relieve the tension.
But the LSA didn’t buy it, concluding Cherkewich intended to upset the adjudicator, and displayed conduct unbecoming a lawyer. Cherkewich represented himself at the LSA complaint hearing Sept. 11, 2013 in Saskatoon.
He is one of several lawyers working on IAP cases recently rebuked by students, law societies and IAP officials for violating codes of conduct. The trend has brought numerous warnings from chief adjudicator Dan Shapiro for lawyers to get their acts together and stop giving the legal profession a bad name.
The adjudicator here said Cherkewich was upset when she told him Shapiro wanted every lawyer to present a retainer agreement.
“This morning it was sprung on me that I am not going to get paid for my work on this file or being at this hearing. That comes from a missive issued apparently by Mr. Shapiro to the adjudicator. . . So it catches me totally off guard today when I’m told, read the riot act, so to speak, from Mr. Shapiro and have a missive thrown at me that I’m not going to get paid unless I have this agreement with my client, and disconcerting, unacceptable, and if I’m not getting paid, and it’s not about money, it’s about principle. If I’m not getting paid, why should I be here?”
His feelings seemed to be reflected by the toilet paper that said: “To Dan Shipiro (sic) – Retainer Agt
“I agree with Ron Cherkewich that his payment for being my lawyer in the IAP process will be the 15% of award payable by Canada plus taxes plus disbursements. I am aware I can have his account taxed. November 16/2011”
Cherkewich told the hearing he apologized a number of times but the adjudicator says the only time she heard the word was in an email from his assistant.
To which the hearing committee said: “If Mr. Cherkewich had personally provided a meaningful apology to (the case adjudicator), he may have avoided the complaint and these proceedings.”
Cherkewich said he “was not proud of what happened” in his 60th IAP case, but noted it wouldn’t have been the case if a senior adjudicator was in charge. He told the disciplinary hearing he “probably owes Dan Shapiro an apology of a different sort” and hoped to someday discuss this with him over a beer.
Cherkewich has no prior discipline record, and the LSA says there have been no other IAP complaints against him.
There have been suggestions the lucrative pay for IAP cases is bringing out the worst in some lawyers. They earn a 15 per cent commission and see case costs paid by the federal government. The can also charge up to another 15 per cent from the client.