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Panel disbars lawyer who bought condo with client funds

|Written By Yamri Taddese

An Ottawa lawyer now living in France who was disbarred by a Law Society of Upper Canada hearing panel last week over missing client funds says he plans to appeal the decision.

“I fully intend to appeal both the denial for an adjournment and the decision of the hearing,” Luc Barrick told Law Times last week.

The hearing panel revoked Barrick’s licence after finding him guilty of professional misconduct. The hearing carried on in Barrick’s absence on Oct. 28 after the law society’s counsel suggested he gave no reasons for not showing up that morning. Barrick suggests otherwise. “My request for an adjournment of the hearing was denied,” he said, noting he had asked for an adjournment due to medical reasons.

Law society counsel Susan Heakes told the panel she couldn’t say exactly how much of his clients’ money Barrick took. But she told the stories of a number of clients whose money had disappeared after winding up in Barrick’s trust account and tallied the known losses to an amount “in the neighbourhood of $300,000.”

With two empty chairs to its right-hand side, a three-person hearing panel heard uncontested evidence in the matter and decided the penalty on the same day. It found Barrick had used  $116,321.61 of his clients’ money to purchase a condo and used another $58,000 for personal expenses, including the payment of credit card bills.

“The hearing panel finds that the respondent has engaged in professional misconduct and contravened s. 33 of the Law Society Act,” said panel chairman Joseph Sullivan, who spoke on behalf of panel members Baljit Sikand and James Wardlaw.

Barrick, 45, told Law Times earlier this year he had gone to Paris in March 2011 to get treatment for hemophilia and receive care from family members there. He has vowed since then to vigorously defend himself against the law society’s allegations.

But last week, the panel agreed with the law society that Barrick had used client funds for personal use.

“The hearing panel will impose a licence revocation on the respondent and $80,000 in costs,” said Sullivan.

The panel also found Barrick had done nothing to show remorse. “The hearing panel finds there is no evidence of remorse, apology to the clients, partners, or the law profession,” said Sullivan.

According to Sullivan, the panel heard no evidence of a medical condition that could mitigate the penalty.

According to Heakes, things started to go downhill for Barrick around December 2009 when his firm, Barrick Domey Tannis LLP, fell apart as did his marriage.

Although Barrick Domey Tannis no longer operated as a law firm, Barrick continued to use its trust account, said Heakes.

About two years later, seven of Barrick’s clients approached the law society with complaints about missing money. In one case, Barrick’s clients were selling a house for $1,957,500. The buyers made a $200,000 deposit in November 2009, a sum Barrick’s firm held in trust for the clients.

But by the next month, the trust account had a balance of $197,278.16, an amount already short of the $200,000 held in trust, according to Heakes’ chronology of events. By March 2011, when the real estate transaction closed, Barrick had left the country without his clients’ knowledge and the money was gone.

Those clients have since commenced civil proceedings against Barrick and his former partners.

Although forensic analyst Prospero Vito was unable to connect every dollar in the trust account to Barrick’s expenses, he traced some of the money that went into buying an apartment in a condominium building called the Mondrian on Laurier Avenue in Ottawa, said Heakes. Barrick lived in the apartment at one point, she added.

According to the law society’s submissions, Barrick’s explanation for using client funds was that he wasn’t defrauding them but instead was investing their money into something known as “the Mondrian trust agreement.”

Nobody knew of the investment plan, said Heakes, “and more importantly, the clients did not order the investment.”

In another case, the hearing panel found Barrick had misappropriated $71,000 in life insurance funds a young girl was to receive after her father died in a snowmobile accident.

“Each of the complainants have a story to tell,” said Heakes, describing the clients as “individuals who were in crisis.”

“Each of them came to Mr. Barrick and trusted him. These were all important matters for the clients and Mr. Barrick let them down.”

In its reasons for its decision, the hearing panel also found there were “elements of deceit” in Barrick’s work.

During her submissions, Heakes said one of Barrick’s client’s, a woman who had received matrimonial settlement funds, was under the impression the lawyer would get the cheque from her ex-husband but didn’t know the money would go into his trust account.

The last correspondence the law society had with Barrick was on Oct. 7 when he requested an adjournment. Since then, he didn’t appear for case management hearings and didn’t respond to a duty counsel who offered to help him, according to the law society.

Barrick, however, said the law society asked for additional information after he requested the adjournment. “I did finally provide the additional doctor’s letter as quickly as possible, unfortunately a few days too late,” he said.

“My medical condition has been fully known by the Law Society of Upper Canada for over two years. They have already been provided with full details of my medical condition. This was the first request for an adjournment made by me. My request was reasonable and I do not understand why it was refused.”

For more, see "Lawyer's clients out of luck" and "Lawyer who left law practice vows vigorous defence."

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