Former Pitt Meadows mayor John Becker began a suspension from practising law for 14 months on March 1, and the Law Society of B.C. released written details about his professional misconduct on March 11.
“[Becker’s] misconduct is extremely serious. The misconduct spans more than seven years and impacted hundreds of clients. The misconduct occurred repeatedly. While some of the misconduct is less serious, there are multiple instances of misappropriation and misleading and false communications. Misappropriation is one of the most serious offences a lawyer can commit. Dishonesty, in this case repeated misleading and false communications with the Law Society and with clients, undercuts the public’s confidence in the legal profession,” says the decision of the hearing panel.
Becker served nine years as a city councillor, then was elected mayor in 2014. He served until 2018, when he was defeated at the polls by Mayor Bill Dingwall.
Becker admitted to misappropriating small amounts of client funds and improperly withdrawing trust funds on many occasions. He also failed to report a trust shortage more than $2,500, left blank pre-signed trust cheques accessible to employees and made charges to a client’s credit card that exceeded the authorized amount.
“The hearing panel accepted that Becker’s misappropriations occurred due to his gross negligence, as opposed to an intentional course of conduct,” said a law society press release.
Becker falsely represented his firm as a registered trademark agent when it no longer was. He provided misleading communications to the Law Society regarding his firm’s status.
Becker also admitted he did not notify clients or seek their instructions when he moved their files and records from another firm to his law firm. He had been managing the Greenway Legal Centre at the Willowbrook Shopping Centre in Langley. In November 2017 he terminated the management agreement, and transferred several hundred corporate clients’ records to his firm, and changed the registered and records offices to his firm’s address, without the clients instructions.
He was served with three citations – one in September 2018 and two more in February 2019. They were joined for a single Law Society hearing, which took place in September 2020.
One citation contained 44 instances of misappropriation of client funds and 205 instances of misappropriation or improper handling of funds relating to charges for insurance binder disbursements during conveyances. The various misappropriations were small amounts of money, and more than one-third concerned amounts less than $100. The clients were all made whole with their funds either returned to them or their accounts correctly reconciled later.
The hearing panel said Becker has admitted to the misconduct, taken responsibility for his behaviour, and has changed the administrative practices in his office to prevent future breaches.
Becker was also ordered to pay costs in the amount of $3,500.
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