A Greater Victoria lawyer has been disbarred for misappropriating client funds, acting in a conflict of interest and failing to report two unsatisfied monetary judgements against him.
In a decision made July 20, the Law Society of B.C. found the actions of Peter Darren Hart were “intentional and self-serving … to the most egregious of conduct.”
The most serious of Hart’s misconducts was misappropriating $4,000 of client trust funds, the society found. Payment to a lawyer is often provided in advance and held in a trust account where predetermined amounts are withdrawn as work is completed. Hart withdrew the money without his client’s knowledge and paid it into a lending company he owned.
This, the Law Society panel determined, holds a grievous risk of undermining public confidence in the profession.
“Wrongly taking clients’ money is the plainest form of betrayal of a client’s trust and is a complete erosion of the trust required for a functional solicitor-client relationship,” the panel cited from a 2014 decision.
Hart, who operated from an office in Saanich’s Uptown, was also found to have loaned $531,000 of client funds to the operation of his law firm. He then funnelled part of the interest earned on those loans into his company. Usually, interest earned on trust accounts is paid to the Law Foundation of B.C., a non-profit dedicated to funding legal education, aid, research, reform and libraries.
Finally, Hart failed to report to unsatisfied monetary judgements against him to the Law Society.
During the hearing process, which began Feb. 3, Hart argued that he thought he could do what he was doing. He also provided six character references, which spoke to his professionalism and character overall, but didn’t refer to the specific matters of misconduct. The panel therefore found the references held little weight in their determination.
Hart had been a member of the Law Society of B.C. since May 20, 1994, practising primarily family law, estate litigation and personal injury. On July 20, he was disbarred and ordered to pay costs to the Law Society amounting to $17,396.70.
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