Judge permanently retires 1-time Toronto lawyer Harry Kopyto 31 years after disbarment
TORONTO – A one-time Toronto lawyer known for championing underdog causes and whose high profile battles with the profession’s regulator spanned decades has been forced into legal retirement.
In a decision this month, a Superior Court justice permanently barred Harry Kopyto from practising law, providing legal services or holding himself out as a legal agent – a ban the maverick said he would respect in favour of pursuing political activism.
“Access to justice has always been a central part of my legal work,” Kopyto, 73, told The Canadian Press. “I’ve pushed the system as far as it can go.”
The injunction issued by Justice Edward Belobaba came at the request of the Law Society of Ontario, which disbarred him three decades ago for over-billing Legal Aid. He argued he was administratively sloppy and the accusation vindictive.
Despite being stripped of his robes, Kopyto continued to provide legal services as a paralegal. In 2007, regulation of paralegals put Kopyto back in the cross-hairs of the law society, which in 2015 refused to license him for not being of “good character.”
Kopyto, dubbed “ungovernable” by the society, kept working as a “legal agent.”
In court last month, the one-time provincial New Democrat candidate admitted the law society allegations against him. He acknowledged drafting court documents, providing legal advice, and representing clients in numerous proceedings in various forums, including the Supreme Court, where he has appeared over the years more than 15 times. Only lawyers can legally do those things.
Kopyto, whose legal exploits and antics made frequent headlines, was convicted of contempt in 1986 after he raged that the RCMP and courts were so close, it was as if they were stuck with contact cement. An Appeal Court ultimately set the conviction aside. Kopyto said he had no regrets.
“I affirm my Krazy Glue comments. More valid today than at any other time,” Kopyto said. “The police and the courts are stuck together with Krazy Glue as it were.”
Kopyto said he opposed the law society’s injunction motion to press his point that his clients – many of them “little people” who sought out his services – would likely have had no representation if it wasn’t for him. The regulator, he said, protects the financial interests of lawyers rather than fighting for the fundamental right of access to the courts.