Vancouver real estate lawyer suspended for misconduct over multimillion-dollar deposits

Scales of justice. (Shutterstock)

A B.C. lawyer who was found to have committed professional misconduct will be suspended for three months starting Wednesday.

Florence Esther Louie Yen's suspension is in connection with the decision made in late July.

The Law Society Tribunal found that Yen, who works in Vancouver, committed professional misconduct when she allowed the use of her firm's trust account for multimillion-dollar deposits.

These deposits, according to the hearing, were for about US$10 million (about C$12.6 million) and C$1.27 million. They were made in 2015 and 2017 through wire transfers on behalf of a client.

The client has not been publicly named, though documents from the hearing suggest he owns multiple restaurants and commercial buildings and that his father owns a business in Asia, where he relocated.

The panel's statement of facts includes notes on a possible real estate transaction involving family members and an apparent foundation in Hong Kong.

Some of the money was also wired via Luxembourg and Panama, according to the panel, at which time there was no indication Yen was actually providing any legal services to the client or one of his companies.

Another deposit came from a company in Singapore, and was then paid again to the client's company.

The statement of facts uses the phrase "Again, there is no indication that the Respondent was providing any legal services" multiple times.

According to the decision from the panel, Yen then dispersed the funds on behalf of her client in 15 separate deposits and 25 withdrawals or transfers.

She also did not, according to the citation from a discipline committee, make "reasonable" inquiries about why the money was being transferred through the trust fund when the law firm wasn't doing any related legal work.

Or if she did, she didn't make a record of it, the law society alleged.

Yen argued that she did ask appropriate questions, given that the client was long-standing, and that she had acted for him over a period of time. She said she knew the client well enough that she didn't need to ask anything further.

She said her understanding was that she was performing legal services for the client and his companies.

Ultimately, the panel found that Yen did commit professional misconduct.

The law society argued for a suspension of at least six months, "emphasizing that Yen had been wilfully blind" when acting for her client.

Yen herself suggested she pay a "significant" fine and be suspended for a period of two weeks to three months, noting that she had no record prior to this incident.

The three-person panel said it felt three months was within the range of penalties doled out in other cases.

The law society said it plans to seek a review, pushing for more discipline, and it said Yen will also be asking for a review of the findings, specifically regarding the characterization that she was "wilfully blind."