Endorsement for Anita Szigeti by David Giuffrida

I have been a member of the Ontario bar since 1980.  I am pleased to endorse Anita Szigeti’s candidacy for Law Society Bencher. I have known Anita for more than 15 years. Together we founded the Mental Health Legal Committee, an organization of lawyers working for the rights of mental health consumers. Working tirelessly as its volunteer chair, Anita helped grow the MHLC into an organization with the stature to present Amicus briefs in courts and tribunals up to the Supreme Court of Canada. (It’s no small thing that Anita, with just the resources of a two-person law firm, represented the MHLC at the S.C.C. – and won.)

I continue to be impressed by her intelligence and by the energy she brings to her work in a busy trial and appellate practice as well as publishing in her field and parenting two adorable children.

Anita has a genuine and long-standing concern about access to justice by vulnerable Ontarians.  I agree with her that adequate funding of Legal Aid is critical in this regard.  Underfunding affects the career choices of both new and established lawyers, further reducing the number of advocates available to people of modest means.  The delays that result when parties are obliged to represent themselves in court slow down the system for everyone.  It is an issue that should be of concern to all members.  No one is better suited to address this issue than Anita.

Each member is entitled to vote for up to 20 bencher candidates in the GTA.  I can’t think of a better way to give Legal Aid funding the attention it deserves than to reserve one of those votes for Anita Szigeti.




About anitaszigeti

• Called to the Bar (1992) • U of T Law grad (1990) • Sole practitioner (8 years) • Partner in small law firm (Hiltz Szigeti) since 2002 • Mom to two astonishing kids, Scarlett (8) and Sebastian (5) • (Founding) Chair of Mental Health Legal Committee for nine years (1997 to 2006) • Counsel to clients with serious mental health issues before administrative tribunals and on appeals • Former Chair, current member of LAO’s mental health law advisory committee • Educator, lecturer, widely published author (including text book on consent and capacity law) • Fifteen years’ experience as counsel to almost exclusively legally aided clients • Frequently appointed amicus curiae • Fearless advocate • Not entirely humourless
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Endorsement for Anita Szigeti by David Giuffrida

  1. On behalf of the Mental Health Legal Committee, I wish to express the Committee’s wholehearted endorsement of Anita Szigeti and her candidacy for Law Society Bencher. This is also my personal endorsement.

    Anita is brilliant, insightful and witty. She is also tireless in her commitment to the central justice-related issue facing our society today: access to justice.

    As a founding member and Chair of the Mental Health Legal Committee Chair from 1997 to 2006, the Committee, now numbering nearly 100 lawyers and community legal workers, owes its present existence to Anita. She became the voice not only for our mentally disordered clients but for the group of diligent and thoughtful private practice and clinic-based lawyers who seldom have an opportunity to come up for air.

    The Mental Health Legal Committee’s cooperative relationship with Legal Aid Ontario was forged in these years. Many important test cases and instances of successful systemic advocacy were the result. Panel standards were established raising the level of advocacy before the Consent and Capacity Board. Anita was also the Chair of Legal Aid’s Mental Health Advisory Committee and gave her time generously.

    While the MHLC and other service providers have stayed true to the goals of access to justice and effective advocacy for the poor and vulnerable, somewhere along the way Legal Aid Ontario faltered. It relied upon highly variable Law Foundation funds to finance its operations. When this source of funding dried up, Legal Aid exacerbated the shortfall by moving resources away from the representation of individuals toward telephone and web-based information and referrals.

    The effect of Legal Aid’s transformation has been to draw resources away from the poorest, most vulnerable Ontarians at the same time that the resources allocated to other branches of the justice system (i.e. police, prosecutors and prisons) have increased substantially. In a time of recession, as the need for services to the poor increased, the number of Legal Aid certificates issued to individuals dropped an astonishing 20% in a single year.

    Legal Aid’s present direction threatens to dismantle the high-quality representation by certificate and clinic-based lawyers that has made Legal Aid Ontario a world leader. Within a generation, the stored capital of specialized legal expertise in broad areas of poverty law will be lost. It is no consolation that all other Ontarians will be able to access the same generic telephone and web-based services provided by Legal Aid Ontario. This is not the purpose for which Legal Aid was established.

    To ensure its independence and accountability, the Legal Aid Services Act, 1998 provides that five of Legal Aid Ontario’s eleven Board members are to be selected from nominees put forward by the Law Society. This is the where a change in direction has to start. The Board presently has four vacancies. While up to three Board members may be benchers, only one (a paralegal bencher) is presently sitting.

    Access to justice is the most pressing issue in the 2011 bencher election. A properly independent and accountable Legal Aid Ontario is the cornerstone of ensuring and enhancing that access. I have every confidence that Anita Szigeti is the person to make this happen.

    Please vote for Anita Szigeti.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s