Lawyer who cheated legal aid disbarred
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TORONTO - A lawyer who defended a wealthy former police officer accused of killing his lover and stuffing her remains in a trash bin has been disbarred for cheating legal aid of close to $120,000.
In its decision this week, the Law Society of Upper Canada also ordered Munyonzwe Hamalengwa to pay $125,000 for its legal costs.
"The lawyer intentionally and deliberately overbilled the (Ministry of the Attorney General) with the intention to profit personally from these overbillings," the ruling states.
"'Thou shalt not pad thy dockets and/or intentionally misrepresent thy disbursements' is one of the commandments of legal life. The lawyer broke this commandment repeatedly."
The regulator had found Hamalengwa guilty of professional misconduct in October last year for billing the province for court appearances he either didn't make or were shorter than he had claimed. He also charged too much for legal research, billed for services that didn't qualify, or forged invoices.
In finding professional misconduct, the law society blasted the lawyer for billing systems that were "deplorable and defective."
Hamalengwa was one of several lawyers who defended Richard Wills, then-50, who was convicted of first-degree murder in 2007 for killing his longtime lover Linda Mariani, 40, in 2002. Her remains were found in a garbage bin behind a wall in the basement of his home just north of Toronto.
Following the killing, Wills systematically divested himself of his assets — several properties among them — then pleaded poverty in persuading a judge to order legal aid to fund his defence.
By the time he was convicted, taxpayers had spent about $1.5 million on seven lawyers for Wills. Hamalengwa accounted for about $750,000 of the bill to taxpayers.
As part of his defence — rejected by the regulator — the Zambian-born Hamalengwa accused the ministry and law society of picking on him because he is black.
"It was logical for the lawyer's accounts to be assessed," the penalty decision states.
The law society also noted Hamalengwa had been formally warned in 2004, and suspended for a month in 2010, for failing to turn over his books and records for examination.
Hamalengwa was called to the Ontario bar in 1991 and was well regarded professionally.
"Mr. Hamalengwa's fall from grace is a Shakespearean tragedy," the penalty ruling states. "(His) moral compass had somehow been sent askew."
The licence suspension is effective May 31. He can apply for reinstatement in three years.
In October 2008, the province's ombudsman said the legal aid agency had made "catastrophic" mistakes in a "shameful episode" that allowed Wills to soak taxpayers for his legal costs.
Ontario also launched a civil action alleging he sold off his assets so Legal Aid Ontario would have to pay for his defence.
In its statement of claim, the government accused Wills of "unjust enrichment" through "fraudulent conveyance" of several properties to his wife and sister. He also signed over his police pension to his wife.