Complaints, Lawyer Discipline and Public Hearings

Summary of Decision on Facts and Determination and Decision on Disciplinary Action and Costs

CATHERINE ANN SAS, QC

Vancouver, BC
Called to the bar: May 19, 1989
Discipline hearing: June 23 to 27, 2014 and September 24, 2015
Panel: Dean Lawton, Chair, Dan Goodleaf and Donald Silversides, QC
Decisions issued: April 20, 2015 (2015 LSBC 19) and January 25, 2016 (2016 LSBC 03)
Adjournment application: July 29, 2015 (2015 LSBC 38)
Counsel: J. Kenneth McEwan, QC and Rebecca Robb for the Law Society; Peter Wilson, QC and Meagan Richards for Catherine Ann Sas

FACTS

In March 2010, Catherine Sas ceased practising as a sole practitioner and joined a larger law firm. In early 2011, she still held funds in trust that had been received from clients when she was practising as a sole practitioner. There were several outstanding files and unbilled time and disbursements that needed to be dealt with. She embarked on a file review project to deal with those files, including the unbilled time and disbursements and the monies held in trust.

In March and August 2011, Sas improperly billed 22 of her clients for disbursements that were not incurred and withdrew a total of $1,947.39 held in trust for those clients to pay to her law corporation. Sas knew the funds were the property of her clients, and she had not been authorized to withdraw their funds. During the same period of time, Sas also withdrew an additional $9,068.53 held in trust for 21 clients to pay bills for amounts she charged them, without immediately sending bills to any of those clients, contrary to Rule 3-57(2).

Following a compliance audit, the Law Society drew these actions to Sas’ s attention in April 2012. Sas did not take corrective action until November 2012. She either repaid from her own funds all or part of the monies taken from trust and either paid these monies to the clients or paid them to her new firm in trust for the clients. In other cases, she rebilled the clients a file-closing fee to replace bills previously issued for disbursements that were not incurred. For clients whose funds were previously taken to pay bills, she prepared and sent bills backdated to the dates of the original billings in 2011.

DETERMINATION

The panel found that Sas’ s primary motive in wrongfully withdrawing funds held in trust for clients was to clean up the accounting records relating to her sole practice and to wind up that practice. Although the total amount misappropriated was less than $2,000 and had little impact on her clients, Sas gained a significant benefit by expediting the process and reduced the inconvenience and cost of dealing with the funds appropriately.

The panel determined that these actions constitute professional misconduct and breaches of the Legal Profession Act or the Law Society Rules.

Sas appealed the decision on Facts and Determination to the BC Court of Appeal. The appeal was heard on January 15, 2016, and the decision is under reserve.

APPLICATION TO ADJOURN

Sas applied to the hearing panel to adjourn the disciplinary action phase of the citation hearing pending her appeal to the BC Court of Appeal. The panel was not satisfied that Sas would be prejudiced or deprived of a fair trial if the adjournment was not granted, while the public interest would be served by the timely determination of the issues in the proceeding.  The adjournment was refused, and the hearing on disciplinary action went ahead as scheduled.

DISCIPLINARY ACTION

The panel considered the seriousness of the conduct and aggravating and mitigating factors, 46 letters of support tendered by Sas, letters from Sas and her accountant, and case authorities that included sanctions imposed in prior similar cases. The panel took into account that Sas did not have any prior conduct record.

At the time of her misconduct, Sas had been practising as a lawyer for almost 22 years and was a Bencher of the Law Society. She knew what her obligations were with respect to the monies held in trust for her clients.

The panel concluded that protection of the public is paramount in this case, as it is in every case where a lawyer has committed professional misconduct by misappropriating monies held in trust for clients. The panel ordered that Sas:

  1. be suspended for four months; and
  2. pay costs of $32,038.49.

Sas has filed a notice of review following the Disciplinary Action decision.

 

2016 LSBC 03 Decision on Disciplinary Action and Costs