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Blott & Company no longer able to represent IAP claimants
The Indian Residential School Adjudication Secretariat is telling Independent Assessment claimants who filed with Blott & Company not to panic in light of the BC Supreme Court’s decision to disallow the Calgary law firm from continuing to represent IAP clients.
“The Adjudication Secretariat and (Ian) Pitfield want to assure you that your claim will be resolved in a fair and competent manner. Our goal is to minimize the distress and inconvenience that you may experience in this matter,” says the IRSAS in an information sheet posted on the IAP website.
Pitfield, a retired BC Supreme Court judge, was appointed by Justice Brenda Brown to oversee the “orderly transition of the IAP clients of the Blott firm.”
Brown’s appointment of Pitfield was part of her June 5 judgement which removed lawyer David Blott and Blott & Company, along with Tom Denomme of Honour Walk Ltd., the company that filled out the IAP applications for residential school survivor claimants, from further participating in the IAP process. Brown also stated that claimants would not have to pay “break fees” to have their files transferred to other law firms or pay Blott for any work already undertaken.
The IAP website outlines the recommended actions claimants should take depending on the date of their scheduled hearings.
The IRSAS notes, based on Pitfield’s recommendations, that claimants stay with Blott lawyers Kelly Kristensen and Kim DesLandes for hearings scheduled into mid-July. Brown ruled that Kristensen and DesLandes could continue to represent IAP claimants but had to work for another firm and be supervised.
If the claimant chooses a new lawyer in this time frame, the website states, “Because of the large number of claims under the IAP, it will probably be several months before a new date is set for your hearing.”
Hearings scheduled for after July 15 provide IAP claimants with the opportunity to either follow Pitfield’s recommendation for a lawyer or for the claimant to seek a new lawyer.
“Mr. Pitfield will probably impose conditions on lawyers who take on Blott claims so that there will be some assurance of an acceptable level of performance,” states the website.
Brown’s ruling follows a five-and-a-half day hearing in May in which court-appointed monitor Crawford-Class Action Services presented its finding and recommendations after conducting an audit of claims by IAP clients. Crawford’s investigation took four months and cost $3 million. Allegations against the Calgary law firm included that it was taking financial advantage of clients and providing poor representation.
Crawford’s findings indicated that Honour Walk had provided Blott & Company with the majority of the law firm’s 5,600 clients, primarily from Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The law firm paid Honour Walk $6 million for services. The law firm had completed hearings for 1,500 clients and another 2,900 are in process. Crawford found 1,222 applications that had been completed but not submitted, including those of deceased claimants. Brown noted that there was no indication that claimants were made aware that their applications had not been filed.
Crawford also reported that 77 Blott claimants had received over 380 loans from various lenders and almost three-quarters of those loans from one lender exceeded the annual rate of 60 per cent, which is a prohibited rate under the Criminal Code. It was also determined that claimants had not received the full value of their loans.
Brown’s decision went further than the measures taken by the Law Society of Alberta, which determined that suspending Blott, although such action was warranted, would “victimize those clients again.” Instead, the LSA restricted Blott’s practice.
“Notwithstanding the decision issued by the Honourable Madam Justice Brown, the Law Society continues to be very concerned about the conduct of Mr. Blott and the effect of his conduct on his clients,” Steve Raby, Q.C. president of the LSA, said in an email interview.
Raby said the LSA was “currently satisfied that, on an interim basis” the actions undertaken by the LSA along with Brown’s decision “adequately protects the clients of Mr. Blott and the public interest.”
Raby said the LSA was currently reviewing Brown’s decision to determine if the LSA needed to take further action.
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