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Ontario Superior Court Justice Pazaratz Speaks Out Against Legal Aid Squandering – Again

Ontario Superior Court Justice Pazaratz Speaks Out Against Legal Aid Squandering – Again

A recent Family law decision by Justice Pazaratz of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice caused a stir this past few weeks. In his written endorsement of a consent order, he bluntly stated that the case before him should not have been dragged out so long, and should not have been funded by public coffers so indiscriminately. He chastised both Legal Aid Ontario and the parties themselves for “squandering scarce judicial and community resources”, writing:

After confirming that Legal Aid was paying for all of this, I couldn’t help but ask some obvious questions:

a. Is it fair for people who have never paid any taxes to be so cavalier about how they spend other people’s money?

b. Is it fair that Legal Aid has decided to fund this easily resolvable case, when every day I see people with much more serious and complex problems who have been denied any help by Legal Aid?

c. Is it fair that more important cases, many involving the well-being of children, couldn’t be dealt with on March 9, 2017 because our court was required to devote one of our limited timeslots to this case?

The balance of the decision has much the same no-holds-barred tone. And while his comments might be unusually critical and frank for a judge, this isn’t the first time Justice Pazaratz has spoken out this way.

In several prior cases he provided similar disapproval of profligate spending on needless motions and other procedural wrangling — whether paid by from the public purse or otherwise.

For example, in Scipione v Scipione, he railed against Family law litigants who run up legal costs, and then ask the losing party to pay them. In explaining that costs rulings are to be directed by an “overall sense of reasonableness and fairness”, he added that “The Rules [of court] do not require the court to allow the successful party to demand a blank cheque for their costs.”

Next, displaying perhaps a little more creative flair, in Izyuk v Bilousov, Justice Pazaratz wrote:

The popular beverage has a catchy slogan: “Red Bull gives you wings.”

But at this costs hearing, the self-represented Respondent father suggested a wry variation:  “Legal Aid gives you wings.”

He now seeks costs in relation to a 1- day custody trial … He won; sole custody.  The Applicant mother was represented by counsel.  Her poor finances qualified her for Legal Aid.   Now she says those same poor finances should excuse her from paying costs.

The Respondent asks a valid question:   Does she have wings?   Can she do whatever she wants in court, without ever worrying about fees – hers or anyone else’s?

Justice Pazaratz ultimately made the following ruling:

In the case at bar, the Applicant conducted herself as if her Legal Aid certificate amounted to a blank cheque – unlimited resources which most unrepresented Respondents would be hard-pressed to match.  A scheduled 3-4 day trial turned into 17 days, largely because the Applicant fought every issue and pursued every dubious allegation, to the bitter end.  She appeared to make up evidence and allegations as she went along.  She defied court orders directly impacting on the child, even while the trial was underway. There have to be consequences.  Either we sanction this irresponsible and destructive behaviour, or we invite more of the same.

Encouraging settlement and discouraging inappropriate behaviour by litigants is important in all litigation – but particularly in family law, and most particularly in custody cases.  No litigant should perceive they have “wings” – the ability to say or do anything they want in court, without consequences.

Returning to the most recent of decision that is now under controversy: It’s a 2017 case called Abdulaali Salih in which Justice Pazaratz simply turns up the volume a little, on what has apparently become a recurring theme with him.

To give his latest comments context: The divorcing husband and wife, both of whom had immigrated from Iraq and had never worked in Canada, were both monthly recipients of government money from the Ontario Disability Support Program. Their litigation was being funded by Legal Aid Ontario, and since they had “no children. No jobs. No income. No property. Nothing to divide.”, he added that it should be “a simple case”.

Yet the couple had repeatedly returned to court to settle even minor issues, and seemed to have no impetus to slow down the steady stream of hearings between them. In expressing his exasperation at the needless dissipation of public money, Justice Pazaratz wrote:

At the March 9, 2017 attendance, apart from paying for the lawyers, taxpayers also had to pay for the following government employees to be present in Courtroom #5 to deal with this matter:

 a. A Court Services Officer.

 b. A Court Reporter.

 c. A Court Registrar.

 d. And me.

I have no idea how much the other players in the courtroom get paid. But as a Superior Court Judge I receive approximately $308,600.00 per year. So you can see that not even counting overhead charges and administrative staff in the building, every hour of court time is hugely expensive.

Many taxpayers can’t afford their own lawyers, and don’t qualify for free assistance through Legal Aid. So they end up representing themselves in court. Or facing financial reality and settling without going to court.

But when you pay no taxes and Legal Aid gives you a free lawyer, there’s no incentive to be sensible. Why worry about the cost when some unsuspecting taxpayer out there is footing the bill?

Clearly Justice Pazaratz has an axe to grind. Does he go too far? Or is he right?

For the full text of the decisions, see:

Scipione v Scipione, 2015 ONSC 5982 (CanLII)

Izyuk v Bilousov, 2011 ONSC 7476 (CanLII)

Abdulaali v Salih, 2017 ONSC 1609 (CanLII)

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About the author

Russell Alexander

Russell Alexander is the Founder & Senior Partner of Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers.