Complaints, Lawyer Discipline and Public Hearings

Summary of a decision of the hearing panel

Milan Matt Uzelac

Vancouver, BC

Called to the bar: June 26, 1975

Written materials: September 30, 2020

Decision issued: December 3, 2020 (2020 LSBC 58)

Hearing panel: Jennifer Chow, QC (Chair), Darlene Hammell and Sandra E. Weafer

Counsel: Kathleen Bradley for the Law Society; Milan Matt Uzelac appearing on his own behalf

FACTS

Milan Matt Uzelac practises law full-time through a personal law corporation. He has a general practice including the areas of corporate/commercial, family, criminal, residential real estate, administrative, civil litigation, commercial lending transactions, motor vehicle and wills and estates law.

A detective from the Vancouver Police Department contacted the Law Society regarding Uzelac’ s trust account, advising that an individual reported that she deposited funds into his trust account as part of an investment scheme. The Law Society ordered an investigation into the books, records and accounts of Uzelac and his firm.

The individual was approached by a client of Uzelac about a Barbados bank that was offering six per cent interest for funds deposited with the bank. The individual provided more than $1 million in the form of bank drafts made payable to Uzelac in trust, which she understood would then be transferred to the Barbados bank.

She told her accountant about the investments and the accountant became suspicious. The accountant contacted the Barbados bank and the bank confirmed no portfolio was being held for the individual. She retained counsel, initiated a civil suit against Uzelac’ s client and reported the fraud to police. Uzelac never had any direct contact with the individual or any knowledge of her circumstances or any of her dealings with his client. Uzelac’ s client settled the civil suit with the complainant.

Uzelac never had any retainer agreements with his client. He did not make specific inquiries about the source of deposits he received from the client. He explained that his understanding was that the source of the funds was from any one or more of his investments or from his client’ s own bank account. However, his client frequently asked for cheques to be made payable to himself at the same time he confirmed the arrival of a new deposit. His client also explained some bank drafts were settlement funds from his employment with Corporate House, the Canadian representative of the Panama Papers scandal. This should have been a red flag that spurred further enquiries. Uzelac admitted that the structure of his client’ s settlement payments were inconsistent with commercial norms for a settlement with a former employee.

Uzelac admitted that he did not know how much money he was to receive from his client before he received it, nor did he know how his client intended to use the funds he received and disbursed. He said the payments did not raise any concerns for him. Uzelac has a long-term relationship with the client and has known his family for decades.

DETERMINATION

Uzelac admitted that he received and disbursed up to $1,167,000 through his trust account on behalf of a client without making reasonable inquiries about the circumstances and without providing substantial legal services in relation to those funds. As a result, his client was able to dupe the individual into investing funds in a fraudulent investment scheme.

The panel accepted Uzelac’ s admission of professional misconduct.

DISCIPLINARY ACTION

The panel considered whether the disciplinary action proposed by the Law Society and Uzelac was fair and reasonable given the nature, gravity and consequences of the misconduct, his acknowledgement of the misconduct and his previous professional conduct record, which included accounting and trust restrictions, breaching accounting rules and practice conditions and failing to provide the quality of service expected of a competent lawyer.

The panel accepted the proposed disciplinary action and ordered that Uzelac:

  1. be suspended for four months; and
  2. pay costs of $1,000.

2020 LSBC 58 Decision of the Hearing Panel