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Lawyer’s clients out of luck

|Written By Kenneth Jackson

A missing Ottawa lawyer resurfaced briefly under a new name in Paris last month while many of his former clients still wait to get their money back as efforts by the Law Society of Upper Canada have recovered only a small portion of the missing funds.

A screen capture saved from the Ashbury School of English web site indicates what Luc Barrick, identified here as Luc Messin, has been up to in France.

Luc Barrick — or Luc Messin, as he was recently calling himself — appeared briefly last month as the president of the Ashbury School of English, a language school in Paris. When contacted by e-mail on Feb. 8, Barrick didn’t respond. Hours later, the web site ashbury.fr was shut down.

Barrick first made the news last summer after he disappeared and left a trail of upset clients and mystery in his wake. Clients claimed he owed them at least $300,000 that was supposed to be in trust.

To date, they’ve recovered only a fraction of that money.

Barrick said he was going to France, where he holds citizenship, due to an illness. He failed to return to Canada as promised by May 15.

In a statement, Barrick said he wasn’t able to return to Ottawa as scheduled because his health problems were too severe. He denied doing anything wrong with his clients’ money.

“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.”

Barrick suffered complication from knee surgery related to his hemophilia. He’s a law graduate from the common law program at the University of Ottawa. As for the money, he said selling an Ottawa condo would allow clients to recover the missing money.

That property at 324 Laurier Ave. in Ottawa went up for sale at $469,000. In the meantime, the LSUC obtained a court order to seize control of Barrick’s practice and suspended his licence.

It went a step further in August by registering a caution on the condo at the land registry office in Ottawa, according to documents obtained by Law Times. The LSUC then asked the court to remove the caution on Nov. 8, 2011, so the property could sell under a power of sale.

However, the sale shortly after resulted in net proceeds of $51,564, a far cry from the total amount of money claimed by clients.

A spokeswoman for the law society says the regulator has taken the necessary steps to retrieve the missing money or will be doing so. “Some funds have been recovered as a result of the trusteeship,” says the LSUC’s Susan Tonkin.

“It would be premature to state whether or not additional funds might be available, but our efforts are ongoing. We will report to the court as required. In general, the law society does whatever it can to recover money that one of its licensees is alleged to have taken from clients.”

Tonkin notes the LSUC seeks a trusteeship when lawyers abandon their practice or “there are reasonable grounds for believing that the lawyer has dealt improperly with client funds or property.”

So far, the law society has obtained 181 boxes of documents and five computers from Barrick’s office and homes. In the meantime, former clients and other parties seeking money, files or property have made 39 inquiries and requests.

In Barrick’s two trust accounts, the law society recovered $3,814. But following a preliminary examination of his books and records, “it appears that it will not be possible to reconcile the trust account to create an accurate client trust liability listing,” Lina Caldaroni, an officer with the LSUC’s trustee services department, said in an affidavit filed in the ongoing court matter involving the law society and Barrick.

Two days after the Ashbury web site went down, it was back up but without Barrick’s picture and details. But a saved version shows a picture of Barrick smiling in a section on the school’s team.

Next to his picture is a description of Barrick as being born and educated in Canada with degrees in history and law. The site notes he’s a fluently bilingual lawyer with 10 years’ experience.

A search of the web site also shows some of his information remains there. By searching the name Luc, a photo of him appears.

One person who held out hope for Barrick was fellow Ottawa lawyer Bruce La Rochelle. He gave him the benefit of the doubt when Barrick never returned from France.

La Rochelle had been helping Barrick, someone he called a friend, with his work before he left. Now that Barrick hasn’t returned but has resurfaced in such a prominent way, La Rochelle says the entire situation is tragic.

“Some people have very high degrees of negative sentiment towards Luc, sometimes bordering on the obsessive, given how shabbily he treated so many who were close to him,” says La Rochelle, who claims Barrick owes him several thousand dollars.

“Others regard his situation as primarily tragic. I see myself in the latter category, despite having been burned financially just like so many others.

For more, see "Colleague gives missing lawyer benefit of doubt."

  • reading
    This reads a bit like a tweety bird story. All one sided and with an evil villain yet a provider of information with a very long history of mischief!!
  • Mr. Holmes
    Terrinble situation, but one can't help but ask whether the law society didn't first ruin his practise, possibly through less than proper conduct itself, to which the lawyer responded badly then went into debt and lost control. In nearly every case of this type, this appears to be the usual scenario. It starts with the regulator.
    The regulator needs to be able to deal with minor complaints without causing legal catastrophes among lawyers who tend to be very highly psychologically invested in their professions, as they will not have a fall-back position much of the time. This then harms the poublic, a group the regulator needs to be mindful of.
  • Rom
    Mr. Holmes, you make a very interesting point. Can you suggest any solutions yourself to support the troubled lawyer? Thank you.
  • bill van sleuwen
    [quote name="Mr. Holmes"]Terrinble situation, but one can't help but ask whether the law society didn't first ruin his practise, possibly through less than proper conduct itself, to which the lawyer responded badly then went into debt and lost control. In nearly every case of this type, this appears to be the usual scenario. It starts with the regulator.
    The regulator needs to be able to deal with minor complaints without causing legal catastrophes among lawyers who tend to be very highly psychologically invested in their professions, as they will not have a fall-back position much of the time. This then harms the poublic, a group the regulator needs to be mindful of.[/quote]

    Good point. The LSUC imo did almost nothing about my complaint.
  • Roy Dickinson
    First.. If his health problems were that severe, would he be starting a new business?

    Second, he said that the money would be recovered from the sale of the condo, but it was not.. only it seems a small portion of the money was recovered.

    Third, LSUC has not started any formal disciplinary action against him yet.

    Tragic? Hardly... It seems that he did everything he could to protect himself, but nothing to protect his clients or the profession...

    Seems clear that he was a crook who did nothing but left poor innocents in his wake. Hard to believe he had been appointed to a government patronage position. I still wonder what happened to those cases that he must have taken off on...
  • Bernard Desjardins
    This guy is a complete ass!

    I agree with Roy. I will add more to what Roy is saying.

    How can you declare that you have severe health problem and post a resume the following day on the internet! To me it is sickening.
    How can you be a school principal with severe health problems? This makes the profession of a school principal and lawyer look really bad. A crook running a school. I hope that this guys stays in France because this is pretty scary.
    The LSUC is still investigating. I think they want to make sure that they do have enough evidence to hang him. This kind of stuff does take time. So, let the LSUC do their job.
  • YoungLawyer
    As a 3rd year law student, I find this ex-lawyer's behaviour especially troubling. He is sending a horrible message out to us who have yet to be admitted to the bar. Even students who got an 'F' in the law of trusts knows that it's inappropriate to invest money from a trust account. Many of my colleagues have not attained articling positions yet, and this goof is out misusing trust monies and going on Parisian hiatuses? LOL. We would kill to be in his position BEFORE he all made these errors. Then there is the obvious point that this makes the general public hate lawyers more than they already do. I think there's a serious issue here in that clients have no idea what kind of lawyers they're retaining, They're not all good one's, or even competent, that's for sure, yet they're still billing $200-$400 per hour??? PLEASE. We need to weed incompetents out of this practise. This is all my humble opinion.
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