Lawyer held liable for legal costs of ‘frivolous’ action
TORONTO—A prominent Toronto lawyer who pursued a frivolous action on behalf of a client was found personally liable Tuesday for the legal costs incurred, a decision he said could deter lawyers from taking on tough cases.
In upholding the $84,000 costs award against Paul Slansky, the Ontario Court of Appeal faulted his conduct for his involvement in the vexatious proceeding.
Slansky, the Appeal Court said, had wasted money unnecessarily by “acting on unreasonable instructions from, or providing unreasonable advice to, his client.”
In response, Slansky said he disagreed with the ruling.
“Lawyers who act in good faith for a client in difficult cases must now be concerned that if the case is lost, they may be found liable for costs if a judge thinks that the action was not well-founded,” Slansky told The Canadian Press.
“This creates a chill on all lawyers, deterring them from taking on difficult cases.”
The situation began in 2007, when Donald Best sued 62 defendants for negligence and economic loss. The action was stayed in 2009, and Best was later found in contempt for failing to comply with court orders. In 2012, he accused the defendants and their lawyers of perjury, conspiracy, fraud, obstruction of justice and fabrication of evidence — accusations a judge rejected as baseless.
Best served 60 days in prison for contempt. He then engaged Slansky to appeal.
In doing so, Slansky tried to force the opposing lawyers to step down by repeating Best’s allegations of serious misconduct against them. That attempt failed and a court awarded costs against Best, who tried unsuccessfully to get the Supreme Court of Canada to intervene. He didn’t pay up.
While this was going on, Best also launched a new suit through Slansky against 39 defendants. He again made serious allegations of misconduct against opposing lawyers, police and private investigators.
A judge eventually found Best had used the rules to “create the need for an unnecessary and time-consuming motion” and that his behaviour had been reprehensible, unnecessary and unreasonable.
On several occasions before and after that decision, lawyers for the other side warned Slansky they would seek costs against him personally for his various legal delays and manoeuvres.
“Your approach to this litigation has been abusive and continues to waste an astonishing amount of money on legal costs,” they wrote.
“You personally have caused these costs to be incurred without any reasonable cause by either acquiescing to absolutely unreasonable instructions from your client, or worse, by advising your client to take the unreasonable steps he has taken through you.”
Last fall, Justice Susan Healey dismissed the various actions brought by Best, saying they were without a “scintilla of merit” and that it was the most “vexatious and abusive” claim ever to come before her. In October, Healey found Slansky liable for $84,000 in costs.
Slansky turned to the Court of Appeal, which on Tuesday rejected his argument that the costs award was unfair and flowed from his pursuit of a weak case.
The Appeal Court also ordered Slansky to pay $30,000 more for the costs of the appeal.