Complaints, Lawyer Discipline and Public Hearings

Summary of Decision of the Hearing Panel

CHRISTOPHER ROY PENTY

Kelowna, BC

Called to the bar: May 10, 1983

Discipline hearing: October 8, 2015

Panel: David W. Mossop, QC, Chair, J.S. Woody Hayes and Gavin Hume, QC

Decision issued: November 12, 2015 (2015 LSBC 51)

Counsel: Alison Kirby for the Law Society; Christopher Roy Penty on his own behalf

FACTS

Christopher Roy Penty was retained by clients in November 2009 to work on an ongoing civil action. His legal assistant began to work on the civil action later that month. In February 2010, his clients instructed him to work on foreclosure proceedings, and his legal assistant began working on the foreclosure proceedings in May 2010. There was no written retainer agreement with respect to the civil action or the foreclosure proceedings. The clients were aware that Penty’ s legal assistant was working on their files.

In May 2011, Penty ceased to act for the clients and issued two final legal bills for services rendered for the civil action and the foreclosure proceedings. The time spent and services rendered by Penty’ s legal assistant were described as Penty’ s time and services and billed at his hourly rate of $300.

At the registrar’ s review in May 2012, Penty stated the files predated the start of the legal assistant’ s employment and he did not have much involvement other than towards the end of the projects. Penty reviewed the transcript of the hearing and his client files in the following months, and he did not correct his misrepresentation to the court.

In November 2012, Penty admitted in his written supplemental submissions that he billed his legal assistant’ s time as his own from time to time. He stated the bulk of the time was his own and, since his legal assistant had 20 years of experience as a lawyer, it would be appropriate to bill his time at a lawyer’ s rate. He emphasized that this was a very minor part of the time billed.

The registrar held that Penty’ s conduct was unacceptable. The registrar stated that Penty was only entitled to bill his legal assistant’ s time at $150 per hour and he was not entitled to bill for services that were secretarial in nature. The registrar was only able to identify 2.8 hours of legal assistant time from the statement of account for the civil action and reduced the amount by $420.

Penty and his legal assistant’ s timesheets reflect that approximately 31 per cent of the time billed on the civil action and 56 per cent of time billed on the foreclosure proceedings was related to work performed by the legal assistant.

ADMISSION AND DISCIPLINARY ACTION

Penty admitted to committing professional misconduct by misrepresenting the amounts he was entitled to bill his clients and making misrepresentations orally and in writing to the court. The panel accepted his admission.

The panel found that Penty’ s conduct showed dishonesty and a lack of integrity that suggests a suspension would be the appropriate sanction. The panel considered Penty’ s professional conduct record, which consisted of a prior citation and two conduct reviews and showed a pattern of misleading the court and making false representations. It also considered the personal profit he gained as a result of the misconduct.

The panel ordered that Penty:

  1. be suspended for four months; and
  2. pay $2,500 in costs.

2015 LSBC 51 Decision of the Hearing Panel