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Suspended Vancouver lawyer ordered to pay neighbor $30,000 for time spent on pseudo-legal lawsuit

Suspended Vancouver lawyer ordered to pay neighbor ,000 for time spent on pseudo-legal lawsuit
Suspended Vancouver lawyer ordered to pay neighbor ,000 for time spent on pseudo-legal lawsuit

A disbarred Vancouver lawyer who lost a “frivolous” lawsuit against her neighbour over a glass patio divider has been ordered to pay the woman nearly $30,000 in costs, likely ending a case that legal experts had described as highly unusual.

Naomi Arbabi had accused her neighbor, Colleen McLelland, of trespassing. McLelland declined to be interviewed, but her lawyer spoke to CBC News on Tuesday.

“She is pleased and somewhat vindicated by the fact that she was awarded reasonable compensation for the litigation she went through,” said Greg Palm, managing partner at Hamilton Duncan Law Corporation.

One expert on pseudo-legal arguments described the case as “magical nonsense”, while another said it was “extraordinarily rare” to see such a claim from a practising lawyer. The judge who dismissed the case said it had the hallmarks of claims by OPCA (Organised Pseudolegal Commercial Arguments) litigants” — legal theories advocated by fringe groups such as Sovereign Citizens and Freemen on the Land.

$14,000 settlement offer

In her original claim filed in October, Arbabi accused McLelland of denying her access to the mountains by installing a 1.7-meter-high opaque glass barrier on McLelland’s rooftop terrace.

A judge dismissed the case in January and ordered Arbabi to pay special costs — money “generally awarded as punishment for conduct the court finds objectionable,” Palm said. The only issue left to be resolved was how much Arbabi had to pay.

According to Monday’s ruling, McLelland offered Arbabi a deal: They could settle the fees for just over $14,200 if Arbabi paid by March 8.

Arbabi agreed to the amount, but said she would pay the amount in installments spread over the next 40 years.

McLelland didn’t want to wait until 2064, so the case went back to court.

In her decision, Special Clerk Meg Gaily said Arbabi should pay McLelland just over $29,500 to cover the time and money she spent on her defense. McLelland should have spent more time researching and learning civil procedure “in order to handle the OPCA lawsuit than she otherwise would have.”

Ben Nelms/CBC

Gaily said the special costs will also be used to reimburse Palm and the legal team, who assisted McLelland on a pro bono basis.

“Ms. Arbabi chose to litigate in a manner that … was contrary to the oath she and I both took when we became attorneys to uphold the rule of law and not to initiate litigation based on frivolous pretenses,” Palm said, speaking about why he took the case for free.

“Ultimately, this award is proof that this has consequences.”

Arbabi has a 14-day right to petition the court to review a clerk’s decision. CBC News reached out to Arbabi for comment through her custodian, a practicing lawyer appointed to manage or wind up a law practice. The custodian referred the inquiry to the Law Society of BC, which declined to contact Arbabi, citing confidentiality.

When British Columbia Supreme Court Justice Susanna Hughes dismissed Arbabi’s original claim earlier this year, she said the “frivolous and vexatious” lawsuit was an attempt by Arbabi to use the court “for the purposes of her fictitious court.”

The judge said the lawsuit had no reasonable legal basis and bore “many hallmarks” of the OPCA defendants’ claims.

The ruling on costs states that Arbabi has accepted responsibility for the claim but “denies that it is an OPCA party to the proceedings.”

Arbabi resigned his law license in January

In her original statement, Arbabi identified herself as “I, a woman” and said the case would be heard in the “Naomi Arbabi court.”

She wrote that “this is a claim under the law of the land, and not a complaint under any legal code, statute or statute” and is seeking compensation of $1,000 per day for each day the glass partition was in place. That would have been more than $130,000 at the time the claim was dismissed.

When Arbabi appeared in court in November to challenge McLelland’s request to dismiss her claim, she said she was representing herself as “a living, breathing woman,” not a lawyer, and denied any involvement with any organized pseudo-legal groups.

Hughes ordered Arbabi to pay special costs for violating the oath taken by all lawyers admitted to the bar in British Columbia, which includes a promise “not to bring lawsuits upon frivolous pretenses.”

When she filed her claim last fall, Arbabi was a lawyer in good standing with the Law Society of BC. In January of this year, she revoked her license to practice law in the province, several weeks after it was suspended in the McLelland case.

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Arbabi agreed to speak to a reporter about her lawsuit in November, but declined to answer questions when she arrived. Instead, she read a warning about the legal consequences of publishing a story without her permission.

During a later podcast interview, Arbabi described her legal approach as “the law for humanity.” Arbabi said she began taking courses through a website called Sovereign’s Way after experiencing something of an awakening during the COVID-19 pandemic.

She said she now saw the legal system as a board game that she did not want to play.