Top BC lawyer cited by law society for alleged trust account mismanagement

The Law Society of BC has accused one of the province’s top criminal lawyers of mishandling more than $20 million in trust accounts, which it says could have “assisted in or encouraged dishonesty, crime or fraud.”

In early December, the society, which regulates the legal profession in the province, issued a citation to Bolton, whose career spans 50 years in jurisdictions across North America.

It alleges millions of dollars in Canadian and US funds were mismanaged and that Bolton should have known more about funds’ use in relation to a list of individuals, identified by a single initial only, some of who were facing criminal investigations or had entered guilty pleasures for crimes such as money laundering or distributing misbranded prescription drugs to the foreign market.

For example, the citation says Bolton failed to “be on guard against becoming the tool or dupe of an unscrupulous client.”

It also alleges that he did not make reasonable inquiries, such as the identity of clients, the nature and purpose of some or all of the transactions and the reason for the funds to go through his firm’s trust accounts.

Lawyers use trust funds so clients can provide payment in advance, allowing lawyers to withdraw money from the account as work is done for the client and billed to them. Any unused funds are returned to clients once work concludes.

Allegations unfounded, Bolton’s lawyer says

Bolton’s lawyer, Peter Leask, did not immediately respond to CBC News but told other local media that the allegations against his client were unfounded.

The allegations range over two time periods: October 2011 to November 2018 and September 2016 to January 2020. According to the society, they represent a breach of its professional code of conduct.

The individual amounts listed in the citation are $4,866,976.72 Cdn, $10,159,297.95 Cdn and $6,508,949.78 US.

Bolton was the subject of a compliance audit conducted by the society in July 2019, with an investigation following in February 2020.

Consequences of making details public

The details of the citation are now available to the public following a ruling related to an order sought by Bolton for anonymity in regard to the December citation.

It was argued that there was no evidence to support the allegations in the citation and its publication would “cause the public to believe there is a basis for the serious allegations resulting in catastrophic consequences to the Respondent’s career.”

At a hearing on March 28, an adjudicator ruled against Bolton, saying he had not proven there were exceptional circumstances requiring anonymity. They agreed with the society that Bolton’s claims did not outweigh public interest and openness and transparency in the society’s disciplinary process.

None of the allegations in the citation have been proven and are not before the courts.

The law society has not yet announced when a disciplinary hearing will be held over the citation where Bolton will have an opportunity to present evidence, call witnesses and make submissions.

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