By Kathleen Martens
APTN National News
WINNIPEG — Howard Lorne Tennenhouse was disbarred by the Law Society of Manitoba Tuesday after pleading guilty to taking nearly $1 million from 54 residential school survivors.
Complaints from the former students helped expose the Winnipeg lawyer. Tennenhouse was acting on their behalf in claims for compensation for abuse they suffered as children at Indian Residential Schools.
It’s the first time anyone at the disciplinary hearing, conducted at the Law Society’s Winnipeg offices, had heard of a lawyer losing his licence to practice law for over-charging residential school survivors.
Hundreds of lawyers across Canada are working with thousands of survivors as part of the Independent Assessment Process of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. The process compensates survivors for sexual and the worst physical abuse suffered at the church-run schools.
Tennenhouse’s lawyer Robert Tapper entered the guilty plea on behalf of his client, admitting to a statement of facts that reflected a year-long investigation conducted by the Law Society. The statement of facts alleged that a misappropriation of funds occurred when clients were over-charged for legal services.
Tennenhouse pleaded guilty to taking $932,501.80 from 54 residential school survivors.
Tennenhouse, a lawyer since 1980, did not attend the hearing.
A lawyer acting for the Law Society, Rocky Kravetsky, said many survivors filed complaints about the amount of money Tennenhouse was taking off their compensation payouts. He was taking money over the amount approved by adjudicators in the settlement claims process.
Tennenhouse, 55, was reportedly using some of the money to buy property in another country.
At the time, Tennenhouse was under Law Society-imposed supervision by another lawyer because of an earlier and unrelated disciplinary action.
During the hearing, Kravetsky said Tennenhouse “went to great lengths” to circumvent the control on him and, in doing so, breached the integrity and public trust of the legal profession. At one point, Tennenhouse accompanied a survivor to the bank, demanded nearly $30,000 in a bank draft, and deposited the money in his wife’s account.
The amount was more than the 15 per cent Ottawa pays lawyers for their fees, and came from the client’s compensation payout.
In removing Tennenhouse from his practice, the head of the Law Society disciplinary committee said the lawyer had “exploited especially vulnerable clients.”
Tennenhouse has repaid about half the money and the Law Society says it will immediately refund the balance to survivors and collect the remainder from Tennenhouse. He also agreed to pay $57,512 toward the cost of the Law Society’s investigation.
None of the clients attended the hearing.