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BARRISTERS AND SOLICITORS - Relationship with client - Conflict of interest - Transactions with client

Tuesday, August 11, 2020 @ 5:55 AM  


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Appeal by Abrametz from a decision of the respondent Law Society that found him guilty of four counts of conduct unbecoming a lawyer and disbarred him. The proceedings against the appellant began in 2012, when the respondent began an audit investigation. None of the appellant’s clients complained and it was not alleged the appellant misappropriated funds. In 2012, the appellant admitted he failed to promptly deposit $36,578 in fees from eight files into his office account. The appellant signed an undertaking to allow him to continue to practice under supervision in 2013. The auditor’s trust report was completed in 2014. The formal complaint was issued in 2015. The respondent’s application for document production was heard in 2016. The disciplinary hearing occurred in 2017. The respondent found the appellant guilty of failing to maintain proper books and records and entering into debtor-creditor relationships with 11 clients when there was a conflict of interest. The respondent dismissed the appellant’s application to stay the proceedings because of undue delay. The respondent found the 66-month delay was not inordinate or unacceptable due to the complexity of the case, the size of the investigation and the delay attributable to the appellant.

HELD: Appeal allowed in part. The respondent did not err in its findings of fact that grounded the convictions. The respondent erred in dismissing the appellant’s application to stay the proceedings. The respondent made a palpable error in finding the delay was 66 months when it was 53 months. There was inordinate delay in the disciplinary proceedings against the appellant that constituted an abuse of process. The investigation and prosecution were not sufficiently complex to explain the delay. The respondent erred in attributing delay to the appellant. Of the 53-month delay, only 18 months were inherent to the process and only two and a half months attributable to the appellant. The respondent erred in finding the appellant was not prejudiced by the delay. The penalty and costs award imposed by the respondent were set aside. The findings of professional misconduct stood.

Abrametz v. Law Society of Saskatchewan, [2020] S.J. No. 266, Saskatchewan Court of Appeal, R.K. Ottenbreit, R. Leurer and B. Barrington-Foote JJ.A., July 3, 2020. Digest No. TLD-August102020004