Posts Tagged ‘character’

Good Character Assessment

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

A while back I posted on a proceeding in Ottawa where an applicant was challenging The Law Society’s denial of his application for a paralegal license based on the good character assessment requirement of the licensing procedure. In that post I focused on the incompetence of the applicant based on his own filings in that proceeding. However, I ended with this:

Not surprisingly, the panel denied Alessandro’s application for a license. A bit more surprising is that an appeal panel recently issued this decision:

By Decision and Order dated November 24, 2009, the Appeal Panel ordered as follows:

The Appeal is allowed.
The Order of the Hearing Panel dated April 30, 2009 is set aside.
A new hearing before a different Hearing Panel is hereby ordered. The matter is to be expedited.

No reason is given for the decision, but based on my reading of the history of this proceeding I suspect the appeal was granted based on procedural grounds. It is quite likely the decision of the next panel will be the same, but I’ll be checking back to see the results.

Yesterday in a comment to that post we heard from Jack at torontoprosecutor.com with this update:

You are right sir! Nic Alessandro asked for an adjournment of the hearing and it was denied. The appeal was allowed on that basis only. At the new hearing, he was represented by counsel who again asked for another adjournment. That request was denied and again his bid to be licensed was denied. Nic(olino) and his brother Giovanni (Joe) Alessandro were convicted of criminal offences based on the way that they conducted their practice before licensing. For a fee of about $4,000 they guranteed people that they could get their convictions off of their driving records. In order to accomplish what they promised they forget court documents and sent them to the Ministry of Transportation. They were eventually caught, tried and convicted. If they had actually passed the good charatcer test most of us would have been shocked.

The scary part is that there is nothing to prevent our own Nics from calling themselves paralegals here in the United States. We are hopeful that UPL laws will prevent them from operating independently, but depend on law firms to do the character assessment and background checks to keep Nic and his ilk out of the legal system. Unfortunately, this procedure all too often fails. Indeed, some paralegals are so un-reviewed and unsupervised that they are able to embezzle huge sums from the law firms themselves. One managed to grab $1.7 million before being caught!

Cross-Border Incompetence

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

Yesterday I suggested that we should continue to monitor the system for licensing paralegals adopted in Canada making specific reference to the definitions of character cited by the Law Society in a panel decision regarding Nicolino Alessandro. Alessandro’s case illustrates that lack of character and incompetence know no boundaries. The focus on the case is Alessandro’s alleged history of conduct showing lack of character, including “convictions for forgery, uttering forged documents and obstruction of justice.” However, it appears that a good case could be made that Alessandro, even if he had good character, simply isn’t competent enough to be a paralegal. Here are some of the problems with filings he made on his own behalf in the Law Society proceeding:

The reference letters:

1.         did not include one from a lawyer, or a person in authority in the court or tribunal systems, although they did include one from a disbarred lawyer who purported to be a lawyer in good standing at Exhibit 1, Tab 4;

 2.         none of the letters speak of convictions, but only charges;

 3.         the typeset was the same in two of the reference letters, at Tabs 10 and 14, and there were typographical errors in the names of the individuals in the “letterhead”; [Emphasis Added]

 4.         the handwriting on the applications, particularly at p. 2 and 3 of the Statement of Reference Form, is suspiciously similar in the reference statements at Exhibit 1, Tabs 2, 3 and 4, and the facsimile cover sheet from the applicant, at Exhibit 1, Tab 4, p.4;

 5.         the reference letter at Exhibit 1, Tab 9 from Evelina Di Rienzo purports to be from a Montessori teacher and does not disclose that Ms. Di Rienzo is the applicant’s wife.

On the basis of #3 alone, Alessandro would certainly find himself suffering Consequences of Sloppiness, so this post goes into that category. Apparently Alessandro needs a professional paralegal to assist him his application. However, if the panel’s statement is accurate, no professional paralegal would assist him because he is attempting to mislead the panel!

Not surprisingly, the panel denied Alessandro’s application for a license. A bit more surprising is that an appeal panel recently issued this decision:

By Decision and Order dated November 24, 2009, the Appeal Panel ordered as follows:

  1. The Appeal is allowed.
  2. The Order of the Hearing Panel dated April 30, 2009 is set aside.
  3. A new hearing before a different Hearing Panel is hereby ordered. The matter is to be expedited.

No reason is given for the decision, but based on my reading of the history of this proceeding I suspect the appeal was granted based on procedural grounds. It is quite likely the decision of the next panel will be the same, but I’ll be checking back to see the results.

Paralegal Good Character in Canada

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

The Law Society of Upper Canada regulates the lawyers and paralegals of Ontario and is charge with ensuring that all licensed paralegals in Ontario meet standards of learning, professional competence and professional conduct that are appropriate for the legal services provided. One recent case that I may discuss more fully in another post discusses the character of an applicant for a paralegal license because of “the good character requirements set out in s. 27(2) of the Law Society Act and By-Law 4, s. 8(1) 3.”

In The Empowered Paralegal I discuss character traits such as trustworthiness, reliability, work ethic, and honesty as they relate to professionalism. The decision of the Law Society panel in the matter of Nicolino Alessandro provides a formal definition of “good character” and the role it plays in the decision on whether to grant a license which I reprint here for your consideration as professionals:

Good character has been defined as follows.

[33] In Re Spicer, supra, at p.5-6, para. 15 (Tab 2, Book of Authorities):

Convocation accepts that character is that combination of qualities or features distinguishing one person from another. Good character connotes moral or ethical strength, distinguishable as an amalgam of virtuous attributes or traits which undoubtedly include, among others, integrity, candour, empathy, and honesty.

[34] In the article by Mary F. Southin, Q.C., What is “Good Character”, (1987) 35 The Advocate 129 (Tab 3, Book of Authorities) she states at p. 129:

Character within the Act comprises in my opinion at least these qualities:

1. An appreciation of the difference between right and wrong;

2. The moral fibre to do that which is right, no matter how uncomfortable the doing may be and not to do that which is wrong no matter what the consequences may be to oneself;

3. A belief that the law at least so far as it forbids things which are malum in se must be upheld and the courage to see that it is upheld.

[35] In Re Preya, supra, at p. 6:

The definition of good character is set out in previous decisions of Law Society admissions panels, and is an evolving definition. The definition is not exhaustive, and refers to a bundle of attributes which, when taken together, amount to good character:

Character is that combination of qualities or features distinguishing one person from another. Good character connotes moral or ethical strength, distinguishable as an amalgam of virtuous attributes or traits which would include, among others, integrity, candour, empathy and honesty.

[36] The purpose of the good character requirement is enunciated in Gavin McKenzie’s text, Lawyers and Ethics: Professional Responsibility and Discipline, Scarborough, Ont.: Carswell, 1993, at para. 23.2 (Tab 4, Book of Authorities):

The purposes of the good character requirement are the same as the purposes of professional discipline: to protect the public, to maintain high ethical standards, to maintain public confidence in the legal profession and its ability to regulate itself, and to deal fairly with persons whose livelihood and reputation are affected.

This, of course, does not definitively answer the question of how the purposes of a good character requirement are best met, i.e., by separate licensing requirements for paralegals or continuation of the present system of requiring attorney supervision. However, it does clarify what the issues are. It is one of the many ways in which it is helpful for those of us in the United States to watch and learn from the Ontario experiment.

Professionalism is all about standards

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

While I don’t agree with everything paralegal-paralegal.com says in the article “Paralegals And Standards,” there are some valid points. Here’s an except:

Although negativity and popular opinion may suggest otherwise, attorneys are expected to abide by some basic standards both in their professional and their personal lives. A paralegal is expected to adhere to the same standards as an attorney. The reason for this is based on general common sense: when a person in the legal field upholds high standards, both individuals and the public as a whole are much more able to place their trust in him. In the legal field, such trust is essential.

While professional competence is undeniably important, the standards which the legal professional adheres to is also a factor. In addition to upholding professional standards in the workplace and when doing field work, the person’s standards in his or her personal life are expected to be above reproach. The character points of integrity, ethics, and basic standards of morality, are not only required by the legal field but expected by the clients whom they serve.

As each and every client deserves not only competent representation but representation by those who take their role seriously, … and the highest standards of both professional and personal ethics and integrity, are prerequisites and ongoing requirements for those who wish to be accepted into the paralegal field and continue to do well in it.