Disbarred Edmonton lawyer sentenced to 1 year in jail for contempt of court
A disbarred Edmonton lawyer has been sentenced to one year in jail after ignoring court orders by secretly continuing his legal practice.
Shawn Beaver was disbarred in February of 2017 after the Law Society of Alberta found he had stolen from his clients’ trust accounts.
He subsequently recruited a junior lawyer to act as a false front to his continued unlicenced practice, according to a Feb. 22 Court of Queen’s Bench ruling.
The ruling from Judge John Rooke found Beaver’s actions warranted a jail sentence.
“His actions speak of defiance, louder than his words,” Rooke wrote, noting Beaver’s “blatant and willful contempt.”
“His activities were also inherently illegal because Mr. Beaver was no longer a lawyer, and was practicing law.”
When contacted by CTV News, Beaver said he has filed an appeal and is sorry for his actions.
"Despite what the Court has recently ruled, I have the greatest respect for the legal system which I have served and taught in for the majority of my career," he wrote.
"I am fully prepared to face the imposed consequences of my actions."
COVERT LAW PRACTICE
Beaver was once known as one of Edmonton’s prominent defence lawyers.
But Rooke’s ruling outlines how Beaver misappropriated and spent money held in trust for a mentally disabled, alcoholic and drug-addicted street person between 2014 and May 2015 to support his lifestyle.
The ruling says he was caught after the paralegal who worked with him shared those activities to other lawyers at Beaver’s firm.
His licence was suspended after he reported his activities to the law society.
On Dec. 23, 2015, he agreed to not conduct any legal work but within the next month appeared as an agent for an existing client in Provincial Court, and also provided legal advice in an impaired driving case.
By February of 2017, he had been disbarred and ordered to pay $120,000 in costs.
Rooke’s ruling describes how six months later, Beaver began collaborating with a junior lawyer in which she was the “front woman” who appeared in court while he took the lead behind the scenes on files, submissions and strategy.
"Mr. Beaver planned and executed a clandestine illegal enterprise," Rooke wrote.
When she became aware the law society was investigating, she deleted a number of electronic records on Beaver’s advice, according to the ruling.
She was later suspended and retained her own lawyer to disclose Beaver’s role in their work together.
On May 14, 2020, Beaver was found to be in contempt of court, having deliberately breached the order barring him from working as a lawyer.
Less than two weeks later, he posted an advertisement to Kijiji , titled "legal instructions from the best", and directing visitors to the homepage for a legal consulting business bearing his name.
‘BLATANT AND WILLFUL CONTEMPT’
During cross-examination Beaver apologized and said he honestly believed he was no longer subject to the court’s orders after being disbarred.
"In my behaviour under examination I am in no way trying to thumb my nose at the Court. I take the Court’s directions very seriously."
He told CTV News he worries about his wife and five children facing hardship due to his sentence.
"I have nightmares about how these decisions will affect them."
He also cited the negative impact of media reports, saying stories about him “are derisive and intended to embarrass” while also taking issue with the law society who he called on to begin “an open dialogue” so he can work to support his family.
At sentencing, his lawyer argued for a suspended sentence and fine.
The judge ruled Beaver lacked credibility and that he deliberately ignored court orders by continuing to practice law behind the scenes, noting his Kijiji ad and online presence.
“This ... might be considered by some as an unusual outcome, so are the circumstances of Mr. Beaver’s contempt,” Rooke wrote.
“Deterrence requires that there are meaningful consequences when a person engages in the unlicenced practice of law, and especially after that act is done in breach of not only a stature, but a specific court injunction.”
Beaver was ordered to report to the Edmonton Remand Centre within three days of Rooke’s ruling, by Thursday.
“A fine is not a reasonable outcome in this case,” he wrote.
“A significant, but not too harsh, jail sentence is proportionate to Mr. Beaver’s contempt of court.”