Kelowna lawyer can't practice law after helping himself to client's estate

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KELOWNA - In 2014, Kelowna lawyer Christopher Penty convinced a dying man to entrust nearly his entire estate into his care, promising that he would donate the money to various charities.

But after his client died four days later, leaving roughly $274,000, Penty kept the bulk of it for himself, mostly into his own investment account, some donated to charities in Penty’s name, other funds to help fund Penty's trip to Thailand and even shopping at Walmart.

Throughout it all, he took numerous steps to avoid detection, the B.C. Law Society has determined.

Penty, who has been sanctioned in the past by the law society, is now barred from practicing law for seven years after admitting to professional misconduct.

His undoing came from his own office. In 2016, a former legal assistant at his firm, Penty & Company, discovered the misconduct and filed a complaint to the law society.

In a lengthy written decision published Monday, Oct. 2, the Law Society states that Penty was contacted by a social worker on Dec. 9, 2014, to attend Kelowna General Hospital. A man only identified as G.D. was dying of kidney failure and didn’t have much longer to live. Penty and G.D. had met just once before.

Penty was asked to prepare a will and the decision states G.D. was adamant that his brothers receive nothing from his estate and instead the money should go to charity.

But G.D. wasn’t sure which charities his money should go to, so Penty suggested leaving about one-quarter of his estate to the Kelowna Hospice Foundation. Penty didn’t disclose that he was a president and director of that foundation.

According to the decision, Penty didn’t consider whether it would be a conflict of interest to suggest that charity, but maintained that he suggested several other charities which G.D. shot down.

This was only the first of many transgressions.

Penty told the Law Society his client wanted all his money to go to charity. Penty constructed the will to say the remaining three quarters of the estate would go to Penty for “his own use absolutely,” and appointed himself the executor and trustee of the will, ostensibly so he could find suitable charities that his client couldn't name.

He told the law society he knew that was inappropriate and a conflict of interest and he still didn't advise his client to obtain independent legal advice, saying there was no time. He died four days after signing the will.

After his client died, he advised G.D.'s two brothers they were out of the will, didn’t tell them him he was the largest beneficiary and didn’t get them copies of the will, as he was required.

G.D.’s estate held more than $274,000 in assets and more than $45,300 in liabilities — mostly to Penty.

In documents filed with the court, Penty failed to disclose, as required, that his client's brothers would have been successors had a will not been prepared.

The court granted administration of G.D.’s estate to Penty in April 2015, and Penty never notified the court that he had filed incomplete or false documents.

In July 2015, Penty gave a cheque for $51,800 to the hospice foundation, which was one-quarter of G.D.’s estate. But he also issued himself a cheque for the remaining three-quarters of the estate and deposited it into one of his personal savings accounts.

After selling his client’s home, which Penty paid himself commission for, he opened a new personal chequing account where he put the remaining three-quarters of the estate and left it largely untouched until October 2015.

“(Penty) says that he waited for the six month time limit to pass from the date of probate, after which he felt it would be safe to distribute the funds,” the decision stated.

Then Penty opened it up. He paid $20,000 to a friend of G.D.’s to pay for her nursing school, $7,500 in Penty’s own name to the Central Okanagan Hospice Association which is essentially the same as the Kelowna Hospice Foundation he was a part of, $5,000 to G.D.’s neighbour for his work on renovations in G.D.’s home, and $5,000 in Penty’s own name to the Kelowna B.C. SPCA, according to the decision.

Penty then transferred $95,000 from the chequing account to an existing securities account in his name. He also used the estate funds in the securities account from October 2015 to February 2017.

Between Nov. 30, 2015 and Feb. 15, 2016, Penty withdrew nearly $16,200 from the chequing account for his own personal use, including $5,200 for a personal loan payment, $227 for travel insurance for a trip to Thailand, multiple cash withdrawals, a $3,700 cheque to Penty & Company and another $4,000 ‘loan’ to Penty & Company and $129.89 at Wal-Mart, the decision stated. He also withdrew $2,000 from the chequing account in January 2016 and donated it to the Rotary Foundation in his own name.

When asked what Penty’s reasons were for using the funds, he said at the time it seemed reasonable and even though he was dealing with G.D.’s money in the account, he didn’t “direct (his) mind” to differentiating between personal and “what was going on in this account.”

He said he didn’t think about it that much. In the decision, Penty admitted to professional misconduct in regards to having named himself and the Kelowna Hospice Foundation as beneficiaries, failed to comply with G.D.’s instructions to donate Penty’s share of the funds, and made misrepresentations to the court.

After the admissions were made, Penty resigned from the Law Society and won’t be able to apply for reinstatement for at least seven years, can’t apply to any other law society without advising the Law Society of B.C., and can’t work whatsoever for any lawyer or law firm in the province without written consent from the Law Society’s discipline committee.


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