Lawyer Disciplinary Board Nixes Depression, Alcoholism Defense, Gives Attorney Bar Boot For Draining At Least $300K From Law Firm's Trust Account; Victims Include Disabled, Homeless Client ($115K) Over Whom Money Snatcher Had POA, & Disabled, Stroke-Stricken Ex-Common Law Wife (Proceeds From House Sale)
- A prominent Edmonton lawyer has been disbarred after a Law Society panel found he misappropriated at least $300,000 from clients and other lawyers at his firm.(1)(2)
Shawn Beaver sat silently through the decision, which came after a hearing that spanned two weeks and included testimony from clients, former partners and colleagues in the firm, and Mr. Beaver himself. Behind him, his wife and daughters wept as the decision was read.
“Mr. Beaver has not yet rehabilitated himself, and he needs to be out of practice while that takes place,” said Fred Fenwick, the chair of the three-person Law Society of Alberta disciplinary panel, in rendering the decision late on Wednesday afternoon.
The panel previously heard evidence that Mr. Beaver had drained his firm’s trust fund over a period in 2014 and early 2015, which included taking $115,000 from a disabled and homeless client over which he had power of attorney, more than $5,000 from an education fund for the children of one of his employees’ brothers who had recently died, and a large settlement obtained by a colleague who had been out of work for a long period because of illness. The panel, which was comprised of two lawyers and a non-lawyer, also found Mr. Beaver wrongfully kept proceeds of a house sale from his former common-law wife, who had been severely disabled after a stroke.
Mr. Beaver admitted to three Law Society offences, was found guilty of four others and was not convicted of five more. He has been suspended since the trust-fund shortages were discovered by other lawyers in his firm in May of 2015.
***During the hearing, Mr. Beaver testified that he suffered severe depression and was dealing with alcoholism in the period where the money was taken, which he said was prompted and exacerbated by the death of his mother and the breakdown of a relationship.
He said the money was taken to keep the firm afloat, as he lost control of his business while dealing with his mental and addiction issues.
In its decision, the Law Society found Mr. Beaver took the money both for his firm and his own lifestyle.
***But Mr. Fenwick said the panel concluded disbarment of Mr. Beaver was necessary to maintain the public’s confidence in the legal profession, and for the general deterrence of other lawyers.
In addition to the disbarment, the panel ordered that Mr. Beaver pay $120,000 in costs for the Law Society’s investigation and the hearing against him. The case is also being filed to the attorney-general for criminal investigation.
See also, ‘Nothing short of catastrophic’ (Shawn Beaver was once considered one of Alberta’s top legal minds. Then money started to go missing from clients’ accounts).
- This tolerance to deception is encouraged by the profession's institutional civility. Seldom is a fig called a fig, or a shyster a shyster. No, our euphemisms are wonderfully polite: "frivolous conduct," or a "lack of candor;" or "law-office failure;" or, heaven forbid, a "peculation," a "defalcation," or a "negative balance" in a law firms's trust account.
There is also widespread reluctance on the part of lawyers --- again, some lawyers --- to discuss publicly, much less acknowledge, that they have colleagues who engage in deceit and unprofessional conduct.
This reluctance is magnified when the brand of deceit involves the theft of client money and property, notwithstanding that most lawyers would agree that stealing from clients is the ultimate ethical transgression.
***The fact is, however, that theft of client property is not an insignificant or isolated problem within the legal profession. Indeed, it is a hounding phenomenon nationwide, and probably the principal reason why most lawyers nationwide are disbarred from the practice of law.
Making a Claim: If you have suffered a financial loss from working with your lawyer or as a consequence of the services provided by your lawyer, you may be entitled to make a claim. If the loss was due to theft or negligence by your lawyer, please read How to Make a Claim.
For similar "attorney ripoff reimbursement funds" that attempt to clean up the financial mess created by the dishonest conduct of lawyers licensed in other Canadian provinces or in the states throughout the U.S., see:
- Directory Of Lawyers' Funds For Client Protection (February 2017) (includes a listing for Canadian client protection funds, courtesy of the American Bar Association);
- Check the USA Client Protection Funds Map;
- Check the Canada Client Protection Funds Map.