Victoria lawyer Peter Darren Hart has been disbarred for professional misconduct.
A hearing panel of the Law Society of B.C. found that Hart committed professional misconduct by misappropriating $4,000 in trust funds that he used to pay into a lending company he owned and controlled.
The panel also found Hart was acting in a conflict of interest for four clients when he transferred a total of $531,000 entrusted to him as an executor to finance his law firm. In addition, Hart breached the Law Society’s rules when he failed to notify the society’s executive director of two unsatisfied monetary judgments against him.
Hart is disbarred immediately, according to the decision on disciplinary action by the hearing panel.
In determining the disciplinary penalty, the panel considered the seriousness of misappropriating clients’ funds, the intentional and self-serving nature of Hart’s conduct, and that his actions undermined the public’s confidence in the legal profession.
The Law Society found Hart’s misconduct so egregious that disbarment was the appropriate sanction. Lawyers are routinely entrusted with funds. The Law Society has established a set of rules governing the handling of those funds to ensure the public continues to have confidence in the legal profession. Misappropriation of funds and acting in a conflict of interest related to the handling of client funds “is the most serious misconduct a lawyer can commit and has the potential to undermine” public confidence in the profession, says the July 20 decision.
Hart was called to the bar on May 20, 1994. He practised family law, estate litigation and personal injury. He has no prior disciplinary record and did not testify at the hearing. Hart did not submit any evidence on the possibility of rehabilitation.
“The panel has been left with the statements made by [Hart] during a Law Society interview that he thought he could do what he was doing. This is not answer enough given the nature of the misconduct and the sums of money involved,” says the decision.
Although he produced six letters of good character references, this is one of those cases where character references cannot negate the seriousness of the conduct, the decision says.
No client ultimately lost money. The clients were paid back with 10 per cent interest, says the decision.
Hart admits that his law firm benefited from the loans and his cash flow was less demanding for the firm, conduct the society describes as self-motivated.
The panel also granted an order for costs sought by the Law Society in the amount of $17,396.70 payable by Dec. 31, 2021.