Complaints, Lawyer Discipline and Public Hearings

Summary of Decision of the Hearing Panel


James Anthony Comparelli

Vancouver, BC

Called to the bar: May 17, 1991

Voluntary withdrawal of membership: November 27, 2017

Written materials: August 7, 2019

Panel: Michelle D. Stanford, QC (chair); Laura Nashman; Nina Purewal

Decision issued: January 16, 2020 (2020 LSBC 02)

Counsel: Mandana Namazi for the Law Society, Jaia Rai for James Anthony Comparelli

FACTS

A client and her husband retained James Anthony Comparelli as their family solicitor. In late 2006 or early 2007, Comparelli prepared a will for the client that appointed Comparelli as executor and trustee and included a $40,000 gift to him. Comparelli did not refer the client to another law firm for independent legal advice.

When the client died in 2014, Comparelli was granted administration of the estate. Comparelli was entitled to $332,773.91 in executor fees. Prior to receiving signed first releases from all the residual beneficiaries, Comparelli withdrew $137, 030.04 from the trust account for his executor fees. After receiving the signed first releases, Comparelli withdrew an additional $236,208.30 from the trust account in payment of his executor fees. These executor fee payments were $40,464.43 in excess of the fees approved by the residuary beneficiaries.

At the time of the withdrawals, Comparelli knew the following amounts were over and above the amount of his approved executor fees, and he withdrew the funds in an attempt to reconcile the accounting: $3,000 representing the amount owing to a beneficiary Comparelli could not locate, and $26,300.24 representing funds held in trust that Comparelli tried but was unable to reconcile.

In July 2017 the Law Society notified Comparelli that he would be the subject of a compliance audit. Comparelli then repaid the $40,464.43 fee overpayment into his trust account, self-reported his misconduct to the Law Society, returned to his trust account the executor fees paid into his general account, and retained an estate lawyer to help him complete the administration of the estate. Comparelli took steps to wind down his practice, and in November 2017 he terminated his membership with the Law Society and became a former lawyer.

DETERMINATION

The hearing panel found that Comparelli made clear, deliberate and calculated withdrawals of a significant amount of money over a number of months, which he used to satisfy his personal debt. He knew he was not authorized to withdraw the funds, and he deprived the residuary beneficiaries of funds to which they were entitled. The amount of funds withdrawn from trust and the intentional misappropriation and misrepresentation strike at the core of the solicitor-client relationship.  In addition, he acted in a conflict of interest by preparing a will under which he was to receive a testamentary benefit.

The hearing panel accepted Comparelli’s admission that his conduct demonstrates a deliberate and prolonged course of misappropriation. While Comparelli cooperated with the Law Society investigation, his acknowledgement of misconduct, remedial steps and winding up of his practice all followed notice of an impending compliance audit.

DISCIPLINARY ACTION

The panel ordered that Comparelli:

  • be disbarred; and
  • pay costs of $1,000.

2020 LSBC 02 Decision of the Hearing Panel