Complaints, Lawyer Discipline and Public Hearings

Summary of a decision of the hearing panel

Kenseelan Gounden

Vancouver, BC

Called to the bar: May 17, 1992

Hearing date: October 27, 2021

Decision issued: February 16, 2021 (2021 LSBC 07)

Hearing panel: John Waddell, QC (Chair), Lance Ollenberger and Chelsea Wilson

Counsel: Jordanna Cytrynbaum for the Law Society; Henry C. Wood, QC for Kenseelan Gounden

FACTS

Kenseelan Gounden was employed with Courthouse Libraries BC as chief executive officer. His offer of employment provided that “ relationship building, lunches, dinner and travel” were part of his role and stated he would be reimbursed for all reasonable out-of-pocket business-related expenses.

Gounden admitted that he improperly submitted some or all of $3,524.99 of expenses to his employer over a period of nearly one year, when he knew or should have known the expenses were not incurred in the course of his employment and he was not entitled to be reimbursed for them. He admitted he altered airfare receipts, airline tickets and accommodation receipts to seek reimbursement for slightly more than the original value of the expense.

Gounden also admitted he submitted claims to his employer that contained expense claims that had previously been submitted to another organization and did not pertain to Courthouse Libraries BC. The expenses were incurred during a board retreat and the organization had already agreed to pay for his hotel room, airfare, and any other related trip expenses. Gounden admitted he altered four receipts to increase the airfare, car rental and other travel expenses, including changing the credit card number on the receipt to make it appear he paid for the hotel using his personal credit card. He admitted he received a cheque from the organization for claims he submitted to Courthouse Libraries BC.

Courthouse Libraries discovered the misconduct and confronted Gounden. In response, he submitted a letter of resignation and self-reported to the Law Society. During the subsequent investigation, he provided a voluntary undertaking not to accept trust funds or operate a trust account and to limit his practice of law to performing legal services for the College of Psychologists of British Columbia and as an employee of a law firm in New Westminster, with all invoices for legal services and disbursements being approved in writing by the principal of that firm. Gounden reimbursed Courthouse Libraries BC in full for the expense claims he had wrongfully submitted.

Gounden submitted expert reports from medical professionals. The expert reports provided information about Gounden’ s personal history of multiple traumatic experiences, offered theories on why he may have committed the misconduct, and confirmed that he is motivated to continue therapy. One report included recommendations to mitigate the risk of further misconduct, which were taken into consideration in the disciplinary sanction proposed in the joint submission from the Law Society and Gounden.

Gounden also tendered letters of character reference from 12 individuals who knew him in his professional capacity. They attest to his ethics, integrity and dedication to his community and charitable causes. Gounden expressed remorse for his misconduct and apologized. He committed to continuing with therapy and to not engaging in misconduct again.

DETERMINATION

The panel determined that Gounden committed professional misconduct, as the conduct occurred in his capacity as a lawyer and as an employee of Courthouse Libraries BC and not in his private life. It also noted that the conduct occurred over the course of a year, during which he submitted 27 expense reimbursement forms seeking to be reimbursed for improper expenses, as well as five occasions where he altered receipts and documents.

DISCIPLINARY ACTION

The panel considered whether the disciplinary action proposed by the Law Society and Gounden was fair and reasonable. The panel outlined several mitigating factors that supported a suspension with conditions rather than disbarment, including his lack of discipline history, his admission of the misconduct, his experience of previous traumatic events, his steps to rehabilitate himself, his letters of reference and the restrictive practice conditions proposed.

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

  1. be suspended for 16 months;
  2. pay costs of $5,326.25; and
  3. be subject to additional practice conditions after his suspension:
    1. practise in a firm setting with at least one other practitioner acceptable to the Law Society;
    2. practise under a supervision agreement;
    3. be prohibited from operating a trust account and from having any signing authority over a trust account;
    4. be required to continue his psychotherapy counselling and to direct his therapist to produce an annual status report to the Law Society and notify the Law Society in the event the therapist raises concerns he may engage in similar misconduct.

2021 LSBC 07 Decision of the Hearing Panel