Complaints, Lawyer Discipline and Public Hearings

Summary of Decision of the Review Board


SUMIT AHUJA

Langley, BC

Called to the bar: April 15, 2011

Review date: March 12, 2020

Review board: Michael F. Welsh, QC, Chair, John Lane, Geoffrey McDonald, Nina Purewal and John D. Waddell, QC

Decision issued: June 26, 2020 (2020 LSBC 31)

Counsel: William B. Smart, QC and Trevor Bant for the Law Society; Henry C. Wood, QC for Sumit Ahuja

BACKGROUND

A hearing panel concluded that Sumit Ahuja committed 10 instances of professional misconduct. Ahuja admitted to professional misconduct on all 10 instances, including four instances of failing to deposit funds received from a client into a trust account. In all four of those instances, Ahuja used some of the funds for personal expenses.

The panel accepted expert evidence that Ahuja’s behaviour and decision-making processes were affected by his active addiction. While the panel found that the use of trust funds for personal expenses constituted serious professional misconduct, it characterized that misconduct as “conversion of client funds to his personal use while in active addiction.” While it accepted that the taking of funds met the test for “misappropriation”, the panel decided that that term should be avoided, given the addiction issues (hearing decision: 2019 LSBC 31).

The Law Society sought a review of those four findings based on the panel’s characterization of the professional misconduct, submitting that the hearing panel made an error of law by declining to characterize the misconduct as “misappropriation.” It did not seek to review the findings of professional misconduct themselves or the facts that underlay them.

DECISION OF THE REVIEW BOARD

The review board considered whether it had jurisdiction to review the term by which professional misconduct is characterized or was limited to review a finding of professional misconduct.  The review board concluded that it had that jurisdiction and further found that whether or not to apply the term “misappropriation” is a question of law that is reviewable for correctness.

The review board found that the hearing panel committed a legal error in re-classifying the misconduct to avoid calling it “misappropriation” and that the correct characterization of Ahuja’s actions is misappropriation. It accepted the factual findings of the hearing panel that Ahuja took funds for his personal use while in active addition, and noted that this would be a factor to be considered at the disciplinary action phase of the hearing.

2020 LSBC 31 Decision of the Review Board