Tribunal alleges MPP failed to co-operate with investigation
‘I am not prepared to give a blanket authorization to an organization that has already breached my privacy rights’ – Carleton MPP Goldie Ghamari
By Jeff Morris
The law license of Carleton Progressive Conservative MPP Goldie Ghamari has been suspended for professional misconduct by the Law Society of Ontario after a regulatory tribunal alleged that she failed to co-operate with an investigation.
The investigation stemmed from a complaint made by one of her former clients before she was an elected official. According to a January story on PoliticsToday.news, the former client alleges he paid Ghamari $9,500 in 2017 to help him pursue a real estate-related claim. The client filed a complaint against Ghamari, alleging she did not fulfill the terms of the retainer.
In its March 30 decision, the tribunal found that Ghamari failed to respond promptly and completely to written requests for information made by the investigators. Her license to practise law was immediately suspended, and will continue to be until Ghamari provides a “complete response” to investigators.
She also faces a fine of about $10,000. The tribunal ordered her to pay $8,000 in LSO costs within a year of the decision. They also ordered her to pay $2,000 to the LSO within six months. They added that if she did not respond to the LSO investigative council within one month, there would be an additional $2,000 fine.
Ghamari, who wound down her practice in 2016 to pursue her political career, denies ever receiving a cash retainer from the client, and said she provided evidence to support her claim. She added that the client owed her money from previous work.
In an emailed statement to the Manotick Messenger, Ghamari wrote that in December, 2016, a former client reached out to her, requesting her assistance for a third time in resolving a situation. She indicated that she had already represented this client twice in the past, and had successfully resolved the situation to the client’s complete satisfaction.
“Upon successful resolution of the second matter, the client failed to return my communications regarding payments outstanding for successful resolution of the second matter,” Ghamari wrote. “I did not hear from this client until December 2016, when the client requested that I resolve the third matter. In December 2016, I was already a nominated candidate for the Ontario PC Party in the riding of Carleton. I explained in an email to the client that I was in the process of shutting down my practice and getting ready to run in the upcoming 2018 provincial election. I also indicated that the client had not yet compensated me for successful resolution of the second matter. For these reasons, I indicated to the client that I was not prepared to represent them in the third matter.”
Ghamari, who was called to the Bar in Ontario 2013 and worked as an international trade lawyer, said she helped the client prepare and send a complaint to the Real Estate Council of Ontario.
“The client insisted that I assist them a third time, citing ‘language barriers’ and that they preferred a Farsi-speaking lawyer to represent them,” she wrote in her statement to the Messenger. “They insisted that they had no money and that ‘I was their only hope’ and they would be happy with whatever I could do to assist. I indicated to them that I was not prepared to enter into litigation as that would be extremely costly and time-consuming. My only mistake is that I felt bad for the client and after persistent communications from them I agreed to assist them in preparing and sending a complaint to RECO.
“Upon filing the client’s complaint to RECO, I informed the client that I was no longer representing them and would not be initiating litigation, and should they wish to do so they would have to find another lawyer to represent them in litigation.”
The client, a restaurant owner whose name is redacted in the affidavit, filed a complaint to the LSO in January, 2019. He alleged he hired Ghamari in 2017 in a legal matter against his landlord. He claimed that he paid Ghamari about $9,500 in cash by the end of March, 2017, but she did nothing to assist him. He claimed in his complaint that Ghamari’s inaction caused him to lose his investment in his restaurant business.
“At no time did I ever accept a retainer of $9000 cash and I have provided evidence to support my position,” Ghamari wrote. “The client has failed to provide any evidence to support his unfounded allegations that I accepted a cash retainer.
“Two years later, the client initiated a complaint with the Law Society of Ontario. I provided all the documentation that I had to the LSO in October, 2019.”
Investigators were looking for more documentation from Ghamari, including receipts, banking records and cell phone bills.
“For the second time, the LSO requested further documents such as my trust account bank records which I did not have because I did not have a trust account, nor did I ever accept a cash retainer from the client.” Ghamari wrote in her statement to the Messenger. “I cannot provide records that don’t and have never existed.”
Ghamari said the LSO requested further documents and clarification in July, 2020. She said that her cell phone records contained confidential and politically sensitive contact information.
“In my response to them, I indicated that the answers to the clarifications they required had already been answered in my two previous responses, mainly my first response of October 2019, and I provided direct reference to the answers in my October 2019 response as further proof of my compliance,” Ghamari stated. “The LSO requested a blanket authorization in order to access six months worth of my cell phone records, both call and text. I indicated to them that because I was campaigning during the time frame they requested, I was prepared to send redacted versions of my cell phone records to ensure that confidential and politically sensitive contact information would not be disclosed. The LSO refused to accept a redacted version of my cell phone records.
“More concerning to me is the fact that, prior to the hearing, the LSO released an unredacted version of their filings to the general public. The unredacted version contained sensitive personal information including my personal phone number and home address. Given my position as an elected official, this poses a serious security risk. They then sent the redacted version of their filings to the general public. The LSO never informed me that they had already released unredacted and politically sensitive information to the public.
“During the hearing, the LSO knowingly and willingly withheld the fact that they had already released highly sensitive information to the general public from my lawyer as well as from the adjudicator, and instead argued that my privacy concerns were without merit.
“I did not find out that the LSO had released my unredacted information until after the hearing.”
According to a CBC story, Ghamari said she repeatedly told the client her status as his lawyer was limited. She said she had returned his documents to him and ended their relationship by the end of March, 2017 because she was getting involved in politics.
The CBC story indicated that Ghamari also wrote that she cut off communication with the client because she had heard he had ties in the past to a group designated by the federal government as a terrorist organization. That allegation was not confirmed anywhere in the tribunal’s ruling.
Ghamari told CBC that she offered the law society a redacted version of the call records as the six-month period contained “highly politically sensitive information” that had nothing to do with the law society. The offer, made shortly before the hearing was refused, she told CBC.
“I have, and will continue to, fully cooperate with this investigation,” she wrote in her statement to the Messenger. “However, I am not prepared to give a blanket authorization to an organization that has already breached my privacy rights.”
She added that her first priority is her work as the Carleton MPP.
“I am in the process of discussing next steps with my lawyer in order to resolve this matter once and for all, so that I can continue to focus on what matters most: serving the people of Carleton.”