Lawyer Disbarred in Fee Grab

By Alexandra Paul
Winnipeg Free Press
February 22, 2012

Allan Fineblit, law society executive director

His law career finished after being disbarred for overcharging residential school victims, Howard Tennenhouse was anything but contrite as he lashed out at the fate he had been dealt Tuesday.

In a call to the Free Press after the Law Society of Manitoba meted out his punishment, the former lawyer, who pleaded guilty to professional misconduct, argued he was the real victim of the case, not his clients.

He criticized the law society, the federal residential school compensation agency and the media -- and even suggested his clients were somehow responsible for his troubles.

"What I'm upset about is I had to (be) disbarred and slammed in the media as someone who was stealing from the Indians, when that's not what I did," Tennenhouse said in a telephone interview.

He said his clients knew what he was doing.

"These individuals are not as vulnerable or as foolish as the law society seems to think because they are unsophisticated," Tennenhouse said. "I still have an excellent reputation on the reserves where I work."

According to an agreed statement of facts, Tennenhouse took more than $950,000 in extra fees from 55 former residential school students.

In residential school cases, lawyers for victims are paid a standard 15 per cent by Ottawa, apart from the settlements.

Tennenhouse ran into trouble when he topped that 15 per cent off with another 15 per cent directly from clients' settlements in the absence, and in some cases in defiance, of orders not to do so.

The Indian Residential Schools Adjudication Secretariat, which sets the fees, tried to discipline him and last year reported him to the law society. The federal government is in the midst of a $5-billion settlement agreement compensating some of the 80,000 First Nations and Inuit children who were forcibly removed from their homes to attend residential schools.

Sandy Bay Chief Irvin McIvor said Tennenhouse intimidated a lot of his former clients, many of whom live on the Ojibwa First Nation 165 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.

McIvor said he was so frustrated with the lawyer he ordered him off the First Nation, only to later discover Tennenhouse had hired representatives to return to the reserve when he couldn't.

As part of his guilty plea, Tennenhouse has pledged to pay back every penny of extra fees.

The law society will start to send out cheques next week that will average about $20,000 apiece.

"From Day 1, the message was this kind of victimization will not be tolerated," law society executive director Allan Fineblit said. "And nobody who has lost money here will be out of pocket. That money will begin to flow immediately to them,"

Tennenhouse has repaid about half the $951,109.30 he agreed he owed.

The law society is getting the rest by effectively garnisheeing fees from cases Tennenhouse was forced to give up with the loss of his licence.

As well, Tennenhouse was ordered to pay $57,512 to cover the legal costs the society spent to disbar him.

The case wrapped up after a brief hearing before a three-person disciplinary panel. The guilty plea was entered, the panel adjourned briefly and returned to disbar the lawyer Tuesday morning.

Tennenhouse did not attend the hearing that ended his career, which began in 1980. His name was protected under a cloak of confidentiality until the law society's disciplinary hearing on his misconduct charges.



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