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Law society suspends lawyer named in residential school lawsuit; didn't pay dues

EDMONTON - A lawyer being sued by Indian residential school survivors can no longer practise law in Alberta.

The Law Society of Alberta has suspended lawyer David Blott of Calgary because he failed to pay his annual fees for 2014-2015. A notice of his suspension is posted on the society's website.

"His non-payment of his membership fees means that he cannot practise at all," Ally Taylor, a law society spokeswoman, said in an interview.

Blott was not available for comment on his suspension.

Taylor said lawyers who fail to pay their fees are given a warning before they are suspended.

The society makes no mention of the lawsuit or a 2012 B.C. Supreme Court ruling that said Blott & Company could no longer represent 5,600 survivors seeking federal compensation for abuse in residential schools.

The law society, which regulates and licenses lawyers in Alberta, said it imposed similar restrictions on Blott immediately following the court ruling.

A review of Blott's actions in the residential school victims case is underway, Taylor said.

"The law society is reviewing his conduct to determine disciplinary outcomes."

Almost two years ago, Justice Brenda Brown ruled that Blott's legal dealings with residential school victims were undeniably "designed to maximize economies of scale.''

She said Blott and his team didn't treat their clients as people who had suffered trauma, didn't provide timely or adequate legal advice and helped arrange high-interest loans for some clients with lending companies.

The $5-billion Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement is believed to be the largest class-action settlement in Canadian history. It is designed to resolve claims of abuse at more than 130 residential schools across the country out of court.

A class-action lawsuit filed last fall in Calgary by some of the survivors alleges that Blott conspired to deprive them of rightful compensation for sexual and physical abuse.

It contends that Blott and other companies named in the lawsuit received more than $14.5 million in compensation through their representation of survivor claimants.

In one case cited in the statement of claim, plaintiff Doris Bird of the Blood reserve in southern Alberta said another man named in the lawsuit showed up at her door in 2006 and began asking her about her experiences in residential schools.

Bird said she was reluctant to talk, but a year later received a phone call advising her that her hearing was coming up in nearby Cardston, where she met Blott for the first time.

"David Blott provided little advice, preparation or support prior to the hearing, other than to urge her to emphasize the extent of her abuse in order to 'get more money from the government,'" reads the statement of claim.

"She was not advised by David Blott that she could claim compensation for future care and support services. She made no such claim."

The statement of claim also alleges that in 2009 Bird received a letter and a cheque from Blott & Company, including substantial deductions over and above legal fees paid to the company by the federal government.

The deductions included repayments to private companies for loans at an interest rate of 22 per cent.

Statements of claim contain allegations that have not been proven in court.

In a statement of defence, Blott denies all of the lawsuit's allegations.

"These defendants did not breach their duty of care or fiduciary or contractual obligations to the IRS (Indian residential school) claimants they represented," reads the statement.

"These defendants deny that the representative plaintiffs or any of the alleged class members suffered damage or loss, as alleged or at all."

The lawsuit has not yet been certified as a class action.

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