Complaints, Lawyer Discipline and Public Hearings

Summary of a Decision of the Hearing Panel

Eric John Becker

Pitt Meadows, BC

Called to the bar: May 12, 1981

Hearing date: November 25, 2020

Decision issued: March 10, 2021 (2021 LSBC 11)

Hearing panel: Ralston Alexander, QC (chair), Geoffrey McDonald and Mark Rushton

Counsel: Irwin G. Nathanson QC and Julia K. Lockhart for the Law Society; Gerry Cuttler, QC for Eric John Becker

FACTS AND DETERMINATION

Eric John Becker admitted to the facts in three citations before the panel. He admitted to 44 instances of misappropriation of client funds, 205 instances of misappropriation or improper handling of funds relating to charges for insurance binder disbursements during conveyances, four instances of improperly withdrawing trust funds, failing to report a trust shortage over $2,500, leaving blank pre-signed trust cheques accessible to employees, and one instance where he made charges to a client’ s credit card that the client later reported exceeded the authorized amount. The misconduct was not intentional in nature but rather grossly negligent. The various misappropriations were small amounts of money, with over a third concerning amounts less than $100, and the clients were all made whole with their funds returned to them or their accounts correctly reconciled later.

Becker admitted to representing his firm as a registered trademark agent when it no longer was one. Becker was a registered trademark agent but had allowed his registration to lapse, and an associate who was a registered trademark agent had left the firm. Becker sent letters to the trademark clients advising the associate left the firm and offered them the choice of remaining with his firm or transferring to the associate’ s new practice. The letters did not mention that his firm was no longer a registered trademark agent and was not authorized to provide trademark services. Later, in response to the Law Society’ s investigation, Becker gave misleading statements to suggest his firm did have qualifications as registered trademark agents, that he was applying to renew his qualifications, and that there was a delay in processing his trademark application.

Becker also admitted that he did not notify clients or seek their instructions when he moved their files and records from another firm to his law firm. Becker was managing another law firm under a management agreement and he notified the owners that he was terminating the management agreement. The owners did not wish to retain the several hundred corporate clients who had registered and records offices at the law firm. Becker moved all the corporate records to his firm and changed the registered and records offices to his firm’ s address. He sent the clients misleading correspondence on the previous law firm’ s letterhead and advised it moved to a new office. The clients were not told that the new address was actually a different law firm, and they were not asked for permission to move their records.

DISCIPLINARY ACTION

The panel considered the serious and repeated nature of the misconduct, the number of clients impacted by Becker’ s actions, as well as his admission of the misconduct and his changes to administrative practices in his office to prevent future misconduct.

The panel accepted the proposed disciplinary action that had been consented to by Becker and the Law Society and ordered that Becker:

  1. be suspended for 14 months; and
  2. pay costs of $3,500.

2021 LSBC 11 Decision of the Hearing Panel