Bruce La Rochelle first met fellow Ottawa lawyer Luc Barrick last summer when they were opposing counsel in a real estate case.
La Rochelle was impressed with Barrick’s attention to detail, and the pair soon became friends. By the fall La Rochelle was assisting Barrick on some files.
By January, he was volunteering to help Barrick, 43, while racking up about 70 hours of free work because his colleague was suffering from complications from knee surgery related to his hemophilia.
Their relationship began to take a different turn after Barrick failed to return from a trip to Paris on May 15 as scheduled and didn’t respond to La Rochelle’s phone calls or e-mails.
It turned out Barrick has several complaints against him from clients alleging they were missing trust account money to the tune of more than $300,000.
In the meantime, the Law Society of Upper Canada successfully won a court order earlier this month to take over his practice. It also suspended Barrick’s licence to practise law.
Barrick quickly denied the allegations in a statement but up until recently had been unreachable, even by LSUC.
Still, La Rochelle hopes the evidence will show Barrick is telling the truth and says he deserves the benefit of the doubt.
“He hasn’t been charged with anything and, to the best of my knowledge, is not currently subject to disbarment proceedings,” La Rochelle told Law Times in an e-mail. “What if it turns out that everything [Barrick] is saying is true, particularly in relation to the trust funds?”
In a statement, Barrick said he wasn’t able to return to Ottawa as scheduled because his health problems are too severe. He also claimed to have learned of the allegations through the media.
“Apparently, there is an allegation that trust moneys have been misappropriated by myself in the amount of $300,000,” said Barrick.
“This is simply untrue and a complete falsehood. Let me be perfectly clear, notwithstanding my serious health situation, which was beyond my control, I did take all responsible and reasonable steps regarding the dissolution of my firm before going on indefinite sick leave.”
Clients aren’t missing just money but also original documents that are important to ongoing cases, according to an affidavit filed June 1 in Toronto.
The law society is now trying to find the missing money, but Barrick says he knows exactly where they can find it.
“I have already notified the [LSUC] that the trust moneys in question, which by the way does not total $300,000, was invested into an investment property,” he said.
That property is located at 324 Laurier Ave. in Ottawa. The condo is in Barrick’s name and is listed for sale at $469,000.
According to court documents, however, one of Barrick’s clients allegedly didn’t receive credit for making a deposit on a real estate deal.
“This information shows [Barrick] may have used a portion of the $200,000 to purchase the above noted condo unit,” forensic auditor Prospero Vito wrote in reference to the Laurier Avenue property.
But Barrick said that when the property sells, it should fetch enough cash to cover the trust money.
Other clients claim to have lost large sums of money as well. There’s a British Columbia client, for example, who alleges to have paid a $10,000 retainer for services but hasn’t been able to get a hold of Barrick.
Then there’s a client who claims to have received $27,000 less than should have been the case in a marriage settlement. Another is allegedly still waiting for a $78,000 payment.
Barrick is a law graduate from the common law program at the University of Ottawa. His ex-wife is legal counsel with the Supreme Court of Canada. The pair has two sons.
But Barrick claims he did everything he could to look out for his clients.
“I am obviously very saddened and horrified by this news,” he said. “Unfortunately, it seems obvious to me now that there is a major misunderstanding of the situation.”
He’s also apologizing to his clients and anyone else harmed by what has happened.
“I never intended for any of this to happen. I have devoted my life to public service and to the practice of the law.”
In the meantime, La Rochelle is waiting for answers and notes Barrick still owes him money.
“I keep hoping that what [Barrick] is saying can be substantiated.”