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Suspended Vancouver lawyer ordered to pay neighbor $30K for time spent dealing with pseudo-legal lawsuit

A suspended Vancouver lawyer who lost a “frivolous” lawsuit against her neighbor over a glass deck 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 claimed trespass against her neighbor, Colleen McLelland. McLelland declined an interview, but her lawyer spoke to CBC News on Tuesday.

“She’s feeling both pleased and somewhat vindicated by the fact that she obtained a reasonable amount of compensation for being dragged through the proceedings she was dragged through,” said Greg Palm, managing partner at Hamilton Duncan Law Corporation.

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

Settlement offer for $14k

In her original claim filed in October, Arbabi accused McLelland of trespassing upon her by obstructing her mountain view when the strata of their Fairview condo building installed a 1.7-meter-high opaque glass privacy divider on McLelland’s rooftop deck.

A judge dismissed the case in January and ordered Arbabi to pay special costs — money “generally awarded as a punishment for conduct that the court determines to be reprehensible,” Palm said. The only issue left to sort out was the amount Arbabi needed to pay.

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

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

McLelland declined to wait until 2064, so the issue went back to court.

In her decision, special registrar Meg Gaily said Arbabi needed to pay McLelland a little more than $29,500 to cover the time and money she had spent representing herself, adding McLelland had to take more time investigating and learning civil procedure “to deal with the OPCA litigation than “she otherwise would have.”

A man walks outside BC Supreme Court in Vancouver on Oct. 4, 2022.

A man walks outside BC Supreme Court in Vancouver in October 2022. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Gaily said the special costs will also go toward reimbursing Palm and the legal team, who helped McLelland on a pro bono basis.

“Ms. Arbabi chose to litigate in a manner that was … repugnant to the oath that she and I both swore when we became lawyers to uphold the rule of law and to refrain from bringing proceedings on frivolous pretenses,” said Palm, speaking to why he took the case on for free.

“At the end of the day, this award reflects the fact that there are consequences for doing that.”

Arbabi has the right to apply to the court for a review of a registrar’s decision for 14 days. CBC News contacted Arbabi for comment through her custodian, who is a practicing lawyer appointed to manage or to wind up a legal practice. The custodian referred the inquiry to the Law Society of BC, which declined to reach out to Arbabi, citing confidentiality.

In dismissing Arbabi’s original claim earlier this year, BC Supreme Court Associate Judge Susanna Hughes said the “frivolous and vexatious” lawsuit was an attempt from Arbabi to use the court “for the purposes of her fictional court.”

The judge said the lawsuit did not have a reasonable legal basis and showed “many of the hallmarks” of claims made by OPCA litigants.

The ruling on costs said Arbabi has taken responsibility for the claim, but “denied that she is an OPCA litigant.”

Arbabi resigned law license in January

In her original claim, Arbabi identified herself in her original claim as “i, a woman” and said the case would be tried in the “naomi arbabi court.”

She wrote that “this is a claim based on law of the land, and not a complaint based on legal codes acts or statutes” and asks for compensation equal to $1,000 a day for every day the glass divider had been in place — which would’ ve added up to more than $130,000 by the time the claim was thrown out.

When Arbabi appeared in court in November to fight McLelland’s application to dismiss her claim, she said she was appearing as “a living, breathing, alive woman,” not a lawyer, and denied any association with organized pseudo-legal groups.

Hughes ordered Arbabi to pay special costs for violating the oath taken by all lawyers called to the bar in BC, which included a promise not to “promote suits upon frivolous pretences.”

At the time she filed her claim last fall, Arbabi was a lawyer in good standing with the Law Society of BC She resigned her license to practice law in the province this January, several weeks after it had been suspended over the case against McLelland.

Naomi Arbabi and Colleen McLelland are neighbors in this condo building on Vancouver’s west side.

Arbabi and McLelland are neighbors in this condo building on Vancouver’s West Side. (Google Maps)

Arbabi agreed to meet with a reporter in November to discuss her lawsuit, but declined to answer any questions when she arrived. Instead, she read out a notice warning of legal consequences if a story were published without her consent.

During a later interview on a podcast, Arbabi described his legal approach as “law for mankind.” Arbabi said she started taking courses through a website called the Sovereign’s Way after going through what she called an awakening during the COVID-19 pandemic.

She said she had also come to understand the legal system as being like a board game she has chosen not to play.

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