The Toronto Star‘s Kenyon Wallace, Rachel Mendleson and Dale Brazao investigate the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) and find it does not report members for criminal activity to the police:
They treat client trust accounts as their personal piggy banks, facilitate multi-million-dollar frauds and drain retirement savings of the elderly.
While most lawyers caught stealing from their clients are reprimanded, suspended or disbarred by the profession’s regulator, the vast majority avoid criminal charges, a Star investigation reveals.
The Star found that more than 230 lawyers sanctioned for criminal-like activity by the Law Society of Upper Canada in the last decade, stole, defrauded or diverted some $61 million held in trust funds for clients.
Fewer than one in five were charged criminally. Most avoided jail.
“I truly believe there are two laws — a set of rules and regulations for lawyers and a different set for everyone else,” said Richard Bikowski, who was fleeced out of $87,500 by now-disbarred Toronto lawyer Lawrence Burns.
Unlike the law societies in most other provinces, the Law Society of Upper Canada does not, as a rule, report suspected criminal acts by its members to police, no matter how much money lawyers steal.
Of the more than 1,000 discipline decisions made by the law society in the last 10 years, the Star identified 236 cases in which lawyers were sanctioned for offences that were characterized by our analysis as criminal, including theft, fraud, breach of trust, forgery and perjury.
The Star could find criminal charges for only 41 of these lawyers. In more than half of cases where criminal charges were laid, the law society sanction came after. Of those bad lawyers sentenced criminally, the punishments were generally lenient, ranging from house arrest to community service. The Star found that only 12 went to jail.
Why do so many lawyers who steal from their clients avoid criminal justice?
A big reason is that the law society in practice does not report alleged criminal offences by its members to police.