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Legal Profession - Regulation of profession - Law societies and governing bodies - Disciplinary proceedings - Disciplinary procedure - What constitutes misconduct

Thursday, September 15, 2016 @ 8:00 PM  

Appeal by a solicitor, Sas, from a disciplinary decision by the Law Society of British Columbia. The appellant was a sole practitioner in the area of immigration law. In 2010, she joined a large law firm and undertook the process of closing open dormant files. The appellant found 200 files with outstanding financial balances. In a concerted effort to close the files, the appellant, through her bookkeepers, withdrew trust monies to pay fees and disbursements without having prepared and delivered bills to clients. The amounts billed and applied, and any corresponding amounts written off, were calculated with the objective to achieve zero balances in the client files. The matter came to the attention of the Law Society and an investigation ensued. The appellant took corrective measures, delivering bills to clients, and, in some cases, returning money to trust accounts. At the ensuing disciplinary hearing, the panel found that the appellant engaged in professional misconduct, as she had known or ought to have known of the bookkeepers’ activities. Sas appealed.

HELD: Appeal dismissed. The panel did not misapprehend or fail to take into account exculpatory evidence of a bookkeeper. The panel specifically found no evidence the appellant instructed that particular bookkeeper to fabricate disbursements. In relation to that particular bookkeeper’s billings, the panel concluded the appellant ought to have recognized the irregularities. The panel cited specific evidence in support of its conclusion the appellant must have known that monies had been transferred between accounts without bills having been prepared or delivered to clients. The panel’s decision did not result from unreasonable credibility assessments. Any failure to mention particular pieces of evidence was immaterial. There was nothing implausible in the panel’s finding that, in other instances, the appellant had instructed fabrication of small disbursements to deplete trust funds to eliminate administrative inconveniences. The panel correctly stated and applied the test for wilful blindness in finding that in other instances the appellant deliberately ignored the suspicious circumstances surrounding her signing of trust account cheques. No denial of procedural fairness was established.