Thursday, November 30, 2023

"Eye Candy"

The Ontario Law Socirty Tribunal Hearing Division ordered a three-month suspension of an attorney

The respondent’s misconduct was offensive and serious. There were four separate incidents, the first three in 2011 and the last one in 2015.

First, Mr. Suh yelled at [legal intern] FJ in a manner she described as “intimidating”, “demeaning and mean”, when he criticized her drafting of a statement of claim without justification and called it “a piece of shit”. He failed to act towards FJ with courtesy and civility.

Second, he brought FJ into his office to yell at her and call her “a piece of shit” for leaving the office at 6pm the previous evening, and to tell her that no one would hire her as a lawyer. The incident was traumatic and verbally abusive for FJ, causing her to be completely shocked and to cry. Again, Mr. Suh failed to act towards FJ with courtesy and civility.

Third, Mr. Suh made unwelcome sexual suggestions to FJ on one occasion, when they were going out for networking at a restaurant. He told her she should unbutton her blouse and “use her assets” as “eye candy”. FJ did not say anything in response, because she was in a dependent and vulnerable role as a “legal intern”. She wanted to article, respected the respondent, and wanted him to like her. FJ was conscious of his role as a rainmaker at the law firm. Mr. Suh’s remarks about FJ’s clothing and her body were unwanted, demeaning, humiliating and offensive. She testified that the incident left her scared, confused and uncomfortable with Mr. Suh.

Fourth, the respondent engaged in unwanted sexual touching of FJ’s upper thigh and her bottom while she was in a vulnerable state, in distress due to some combination of grogginess, sickness and consumption of alcohol at a karaoke salon. Mr. Suh’s touching was unjustified, unwelcome, and constituted sexual harassment, which is inherently disrespectful. It was physical conduct that could reasonably be expected to cause insecurity, discomfort, offence or humiliation to FJ.

Broadly speaking, Mr. Suh’s misconduct cuts across two intersecting areas of licensee behaviour – uncivil or disrespectful conduct, and inappropriate words and actions of a sexual nature – that have been the subject of increasing attention and an evolution in understanding by the legal professions and society over the last ten to 15 years.

Sexual harassment or unwanted sexual touching by licensees has resulted in penalties that have generally increased in severity over this period in recognition of the harmful impact that is inflicted on women lawyers or clients when they are treated unequally and disrespectfully, and their gender is a factor in this mistreatment. Gender or sex is a ground of protection from discrimination under the Ontario Human Rights Code[1] and the Rules of Professional Conduct.[2]

Disrespectful or abusive conduct, and verbal or physical sexual misconduct in particular, affect the reputation of the legal professions, and penalties must be calibrated to send a message that such conduct is serious and unacceptable. The public has a right to expect personal behaviour, particularly in relation to the staff or members of a lawyer’s firm or his colleagues elsewhere in the profession, that is beyond reproach. This is achieved in part by deterring both Mr. Suh and other licensees from engaging in conduct that denies the right of women who interact with members of the legal professions to equal treatment and respectful communications and actions from licensees.

Other charges were either dismissed or not proven

The evidence in support of Mr. Suh’s position on costs is largely found in our reasons on finding from paras. 131-154, which we will not repeat in full. We will only list a few aspects that illustrate the “identifiable flaws” in the credibility and reliability of KT and MT that rendered their allegations doomed to failure:

•           Many central and significant inconsistencies in the evidence of KT and MT.

•           The firm and unshaken denial by the respondent.

•           The inherent improbability of the events including, centrally, that Mr. Suh spent the night in a hotel room with his two clients.

•           The evident motivation to get back at Mr. Suh for what MT regarded as unfairness (and worse) by lawyers generally, including the respondent...


 In our view, virtually all of the reliability and credibility issues we have outlined above were evident before the hearing or during KT’s and MT’s testimony, which was part of the Law Society’s case. The respondent did not need to take the witnesses through each of these pieces of their evidence, and Mr. Suh’s evidence on these points was essentially a blanket denial that he had behaved in such a bizarre way. Even prior to his testimony, the allegations concerning MT and KT were very unlikely to succeed.

For all of these reasons, this is one of the rare cases in which costs relating to these allegations should be awarded to the successful respondent. The respondent is entitled to 40% of his costs, or $19,000, to be set off against the award of $25,000 in favour of the Law Society.

The findings are linked here

The respondent Lawyer Sang-Kyun Suh (often referred to as Phil Suh) has carried on a busy and complex plaintiff-side personal injury practice for most of his two decades at the Bar. In his testimony, he referred to himself as “intense” and “a perfectionist” who works very long hours and prides himself on his diligence. He has high expectations of the people he works with and recognizes that he has shown his frustration and used profanity when others do not meet his standards. Mr. Suh also said he is “animated”, “normally loud” and “flamboyant” at the office and acknowledged “I wear my emotions on my sleeves sometimes.”

(Mike Frisch)

Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink


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