From the Law Society of Saskatchewan (LSS), through this province’s top court, to the nation’s top court, and now all the way back down to the professional body, the matters of a Saskatchewan lawyer found guilty of professional misconduct have now been kicked.
A decision dated Oct. 13 from the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal has set aside a decision to disbar Peter V. Abrametz, and put the ball back in the hands of the LSS, to rethink the fate of the lawyer they found to have been moving money in ways that broke the rules.
In January 2018, Abrametz was found guilty of four counts of professional misconduct, following an investigation that began in 2012.
First, that on seven occasions he took money from clients without having it first deposited in his firm’s account. Second, that he wrote three cheques from his trust account to a fictitious person, enabling him to receive payments “off the books.” Third, that he created records for the aforementioned transactions that didn’t accurately reflect them. And finally, that he advanced money to clients in a way that breached the LSS code of conduct, which prohibits lawyers from entering into a debtor-creditor relationship with their clients.
Roughly a year later, the LSS released a decision ordering Abrametz be disbarred with no right to reapply for admission until 2021, and also ordering him to pay $58,645.24 in legal costs.
What followed was a lengthy and complex legal saga that is not fully represented within this article.
To the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal, Abrametz appealed the LSS decisions on conviction and penalty, among others. While his convictions for misconduct were left to stand, another aspect of the case wound up in the Supreme Court of Canada, which sent matters pertaining to penalty back to this province’s top court for reconsideration.
The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal’s second look at the case, as mentioned, includes among its conclusions that the LSS should revisit its decision to disbar Abrametz.
The impugned lawyer argued that the LSS Hearing Committee made mistakes with regard to his penalty by failing to properly consider relevant mitigating factors and in imposing a sentence not consistent with those imposed for similar infractions.
Justice Brian Barrington-Foote wrote he was satisfied that the committee did make a mistake with regard to mitigating factors.
“As a result of its narrow focus on the seriousness of the offences and the potential impact on the reputation of the profession and the LSS, the Hearing Committee failed to conduct a proper proportionality analysis,” he wrote.
As for imposing a sentence consistent with that imposed for similar sanctions, the Appeal Court judge wrote that he understands “frequently present” difficulty in this task, and added that it is “easy to understand” why the committee relied on the past cases that it did, given its focus on the “seriousness of the offences.”
Nonetheless, he decided the committee erred in this regard “as a consequence of its flawed approach to the aggravating and mitigating factors.”
However, the judge wrote: “To be clear, this should not be taken as having decided that disbarment cannot be considered as a possible sanction by the Hearing Committee when it rehears this matter.”
The decision, written by Barrington-Foote with Chief Justice Robert Leurer in concurrence, also sets aside the original LSS order that Abrametz pay the $58,645.24 in legal costs, and asks the professional body to reconsider that too, in light of what will be its new decision regarding an appropriate penalty.
Some legal costs were awarded to Abrametz, with regard to the appeal and a previous application.
Abrametz is not currently an active member of the LSS, so he cannot practice.
No hearing date has yet been set for the LSS to reconsider his matters.