TORONTO – A lawyer involved in mortgage fraud deserved to be kicked out of the profession as the provincial regulator had originally decided, Ontario’s top court ruled on Friday.In its decision, the Appeal Court said it could not understand why the disbarment penalty against John Abbott had been overturned in the first place.“There is, as yet, no precedent for a lower penalty than licence revocation for a lawyer who has knowingly participated in mortgage fraud,” the Appeal Court said.Abbott, a Toronto lawyer since 1989, was found in 2014 to have engaged in mortgage fraud after a client complained to the Law Society of Upper Canada in 2007. The society’s hearing division found that Abbott had committed professional misconduct related to seven transactions that caused financial losses of about $625,000.As punishment, the hearing division ordered his licence revoked, saying it found no extraordinary mitigating factors to soften the penalty.Abbott appealed to the regulator’s appeal division, which unanimously upheld the finding of professional misconduct against him. Nevertheless, in a split ruling, the appeal panel lessened the disbarment penalty to a two-year licence suspension. The majority cited an “inordinate and unacceptable” delay in investigating and prosecuting Abbott as the reason for its punishment decision.The law society appealed that decision but was dismissed by Divisional Court, prompting the province’s top court to get involved.In its ruling, the Court of Appeal found that stripping a lawyer of a licence for the fraud offence is the presumptive penalty and that no circumstances had emerged to change that in this case.The ruling was sharply critical of the appeal division for disturbing the penalty on the basis that the hearing panel had failed to take into account the long delay between complaint and prosecution and the resulting prejudice to Abbott. In fact, the Appeal Court said, the hearing division had been perfectly alive to the length of time it had taken to prosecute the lawyer.The appeal division was determined to impose a lesser penalty than revocation on Abbott to send a message to the Law Society that the long delay in getting to a hearing was unacceptable. As a result, it exceeded its responsibility, the Appeal Court said.The court then went on to fault Divisional Court for failing to correct the error.It also ordered Abbott to pay $15,000 in costs to the law society.