B.C. lawyer wrote himself into client’s will and helped himself to the funds: Law Society
A longtime Kelowna lawyer has resigned from the Law Society of British Columbia after he wrote himself into a client’s will, kept money for himself and spent it on personal uses like a shopping trip to Walmart and travel insurance for a trip to Thailand.
In 2014, lawyer Christopher Penty was tapped to prepare a will for a man who was dying of kidney failure, according to an agreed statement of facts released by the Law Society on Tuesday.
Penty was instructed to deliver all of the money to charity, and not to use the proceeds of the estate for his own purposes.
The lawyer initially suggested that the dying man leave anywhere from one-half to one-third of his estate to the Kelowna Hospice Foundation (which is now known as the Central Okanagan Hospice Association Foundation), for which he was president and a director at the time. He did not disclose these positions to his client.
The pair later decided that only a quarter of the money would be left to the Hospice Foundation. The remaining three-quarters would be left to Penty to donate to charities at his discretion.
The dying man signed the will on Dec. 10, 2014, and passed away four days later.
In July 2015, the estate was left with assets of $259,831.15 and liabilities of $52,631.23 after renovations on the man’s home that were made in preparation for it to be sold, leaving $207,199.93 that could be distributed to charities.
First, Penty wrote a cheque for $51,799.98 to the Hospice Foundation. That was one-quarter of his client’s estate.
Then he wrote himself a cheque for $155,399.95 — that represented the remaining three quarters of the man’s estate.
Penty deposited the money into one of his own personal savings accounts.
He later opened a new chequing account where he deposited $153,931.15 on July 22, 2015, according to the Law Society.
Three months after that, Penty opened yet another account, where he deposited $95,000 of the estate funds.
He used money from this account for personal use from Oct. 29, 2015 to Feb. 21, 2017, the Law Society’s decision said.
Then, from Nov. 30, 2015 to Feb. 15, 2016, he withdrew $16,198.01 from the chequing account for personal use, the Law Society added.
That money was spent as follows:
- $5,200 to pay a personal loan
- $4,007.50 cash to make a shareholder loan to Penty and Company, his law firm
- A $3,700 cheque to Penty and Company as a shareholder loan
- A $1,976.65 cash withdrawal
- An $856.97 cash withdrawal
- $227 worth of travel insurance for a month-long trip to Thailand
- $129.89 for shopping at Walmart
- A $100 cash withdrawal
Asked about the used of these funds, the statement of facts quoted Penty as saying, “Well, this was my, my account, and at the time it seemed, it seemed reasonable and even though I was dealing with the [client’s] monies inside this account at the time, I didn’t really direct my mind to differentiating between personal and, and, and what was going on in this account.
“So that’s the best answer I can think of. I really didn’t, I didn’t really think about it that much.”
A complaint was made to the Law Society by a former legal assistant who had worked for Penty and Company.
Penty later admitted to four allegations of professional misconduct, the Law Society said in its decision.
They included naming himself as a beneficiary in the will, failing to carry out his client’s instructions and using the money for himself, acting in a conflict of interest and making misrepresentations to the court.
Penty resigned from the Law Society with the permission of its discipline committee; his resignation was effective as of Sept. 28.
He can’t apply to be reinstated by the Law Society until Sept. 28, 2024, seven years from now.
Penty also can’t apply for membership in any other law society without first advising the B.C. Law Society in writing.
His name also can’t appear on the letterhead of any B.C. lawyer or law firm without the consent of the Law Society’s disciplinary committee.
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