Complaints, Lawyer Discipline and Public Hearings

Summary of a Decision of the Hearing Panel

John Murray Lott

Delta, BC

Called to the bar: May 12, 1981

Written materials: November 18, 2020

Decision issued: February 1, 2021 (2021 LSBC 04)

Hearing panel: Michael F. Welsh, QC (chair), Andrew Mayes and Robert Smith

Counsel: Ilana Teicher for the Law Society; Lakhvinder Uppal for John Murray Lott

FACTS

John Murray Lott practises as a senior lawyer at a law firm in Delta, primarily in wills and estates, with some real estate, corporate, motor vehicle and civil litigation. He was initially retained by his client’ s daughter to open a file for her elderly mother with complex medical issues. The elderly mother had executed her last will and testament five years prior. Lott prepared a codicil and representation agreement for her on her daughter’ s instruction. He did not meet with the elderly mother and made no assessment on her capabilities.

The client’ s daughter approached Lott to seek compensation for care services she provided to her mother. The daughter presented a blank cheque and a letter stating the mother’ s intentions of gifting the money to her daughter for her care and that the gift was not part of her inheritance. Both the cheque and letter were signed by her mother. Lott concluded the client may have declining capacity from alcohol abuse, based on information given by her daughter. Lott did not contact the client to discuss the issue of compensation for the daughter, to obtain instructions or to assess the client’ s capacity.

A cheque in the amount of $100,000 payable to the daughter cleared the client’ s account. The client said she only became aware of the gift when her financial advisor called her. Lott went to the client’ s home with her daughter and the client said the daughter “ took” her money. Lott advocated on the daughter’ s behalf and justified the money being taken.

The client went to the bank to terminate the daughter’ s power of attorney. The daughter emailed Lott about the client’ s health and access to her accounts by her grandson. Lott did not contact the client to verify the facts in her daughter’ s email, did not assess the client’ s capability to terminate the power of attorney and did not obtain her instructions to reinstate the power of attorney to her daughter.

Lott met with the bank manager and drafted a new power of attorney for the daughter. The client said she was never contacted for instructions on a new power of attorney and she did not want her daughter to have her power of attorney. She denied abuse by her grandson.

Lott issued invoices to the client for the services he provided to the client’ s daughter regarding compensation for care services. His invoice did not reference any communications between the client and himself. The client emailed Lott and asked who the “ clients” were in addition to her, and requested paper copies of all correspondence related to the legal services for which she was being billed. Lott did not provide the client with any details of his statements of account or copies of supporting documents and correspondence.

The client’ s other daughter contacted another lawyer and explained to him her concerns about the money taken from her mother’ s account by her sister and Lott’ s allegations of elder abuse by the client’ s grandson. The lawyer met with the client and was of the view she was lucid and not under anyone’ s influence. The client said she no longer wanted Lott to be her lawyer. The new lawyer wrote and the client signed a note terminating Lott as her lawyer.

The lawyer requested from Lott the client’ s original will and powers of attorney and full details of Lott’ s invoice with supporting documentation, saying the client will not pay until she received this documentation. Lott forwarded the new lawyer’ s correspondence to the client’ s daughters and told them there is no reason for their mother to terminate her relationship with him.

Lott did not withdraw from representation of the client after she discharged him and retained new counsel. He continued to act in concert with the client’ s daughters.

Lott accepted an invitation from the client’ s daughter to visit the client. During the visit, Lott advocated on behalf of the client’ s daughter, saying that her charges for care services were reasonable. The client said she felt mad and intimidated with Lott in her home. The new lawyer said Lott never contacted him and never told him he planned to go to the client’ s home. After the meeting, Lott emailed both daughters to say the client is free to dismiss him, but he believed she was confused or influenced when she retained another lawyer.

The daughter who initially retained Lott decided to retain her own lawyer and asked Lott to provide her new lawyer with information and an update on the status of her power of attorney. She also said she is seeking sole committeeship through her new lawyer, which Lott recommended she proceed with. Lott confirmed he would end his involvement at that point unless and until he received support from the other daughter.

DETERMINATION

The panel found that Lott advocated for the client’ s daughter when her interests were in conflict with those of his client, failed to provide quality service to the client and breached his fiduciary duty to the client, disregarded the client’ s newly retained counsel and met with the client without that lawyer’ s consent, ignored the client’ s instructions and wishes to discharge him but instead worked with the daughters to remain as her lawyer, and ignored the new lawyer’ s requests for documentation. The panel determined his conduct constituted professional misconduct and accepted his admission that he had committed professional misconduct.

DISCIPLINARY ACTION

The panel considered the gravity of Lott’ s misconduct, his extensive four decades of experience, his willingness to admit his misconduct and proposed disciplinary action, his professional conduct record of two conduct reviews with similar misconduct, and the range of disciplinary actions in similar cases.

The panel accepted the proposed disciplinary action that had been consented to by Lott and approved by the Discipline Committee and ordered Lott to pay:

  1. a fine of $20,000; and
  2. costs of $1,000.

2021 LSBC 04 Decision of the Hearing Panel