Kootenay lawyer stripped of licence after tapping trust account | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kootenay lawyer stripped of licence after tapping trust account

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February 11, 2021 - 10:32 AM

A former senior Kimberley lawyer has been barred for life from practicing law after she misappropriated more than $10,000 of clients' funds and failed to cooperate during the Law Society's investigation of her practice.

According to a Feb. 4 Law Society of B.C. decision, Sandra Helen Mary Smaill, QC was fined $10,289, disbarred for life from practicing law following eight instances of professional misconduct.

The Law Society says on multiple occasions Smaill misappropriated funds by withdrawing money from her pooled trust account. On another occasion, Smaill put clients' retainers into her own bank account, not her practice's account.

She also failed to pay the Canada Revenue Agency and was left owing more than $90,000.

The Law Society said she repeatedly failed to respond during the course of its investigation.

The incidents all took place between 2015 and 2018.

Smaill argued, "all her woes" came from poor bookkeeping and she never stole any money.

Prior to the issues, Smaill had a distinguished career practicing law for more than 40 years, becoming a member of the Queen's Counsel. She has also been an elected school trustee in Kimberley for 35 years.

The decision does not clearly say what led to her financial difficulties but says that Smaill "buried her head in the sand."

The decision says with such large Canada Revenue Agency debt, the 70-year-old lawyer was living on $1,300 a month and at one point didn't drive for a year because she couldn't afford to put insurance on her car.

Smaill, who hasn't practiced law since she was suspended in 2018 and did not apply to renew her licence, argued she should not be barred from practicing for life, offering instead to never seek licence practice ever again.

However, the Law Society didn't agree.

"While (Smaill’s) situation may engender sympathy, especially after a long career with clear moments of distinction, that does not diminish the gravity of her actions," the decision says.

"(Smaill) has consistently refused to properly acknowledge responsibility for her misconduct. In the disciplinary hearing, she minimized or denied responsibility, or she put the responsibility on her staff and cast herself as a victim of the 'perfect storm' of circumstances in which she found herself."

Ultimately, she was disbarred for professional misconduct and given 120 days to pay the $10,289 fine.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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