Alberta law society upholds Edmonton defence lawyer’s disbarment

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Alberta’s legal regulator has upheld a decision to disbar disgraced Edmonton lawyer Shawn Beaver, dismissing an appeal that argued a previous disciplinary panel was too harsh.

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Earlier this month, a seven-member Law Society of Alberta appeal panel said a 2017 law society hearing committee made no major errors when it decided to disbar Beaver for misappropriating client trust funds.

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“The fundamental issue for sanctioning in this case revolved around integrity,” the panel wrote in its March 6 decision.

“These actions took place over a long period of time in growing amounts, (in) which trust monies were either directly or indirectly being used for the benefit of Mr. Beaver,” the panel wrote. “The hearing committee concluded that the ‘behaviour was intentional and dishonest.’”

The appeal panel also found no reason for the hearing committee to have softened Beaver’s punishment — including evidence he was suffering from alcohol addiction and major depressive disorder at the time of his misconduct.

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The decision is the latest in a years-long legal saga, which included Beaver receiving a jail sentence for continuing to practise law while disbarred by using a junior lawyer as a “false front.”

Beaver was once a top Edmonton criminal defence lawyer who graduated first in his class from the University of Alberta law school in 1993.

He was disbarred on March 9, 2017, after a disciplinary hearing found him guilty of seven of 12 alleged violations of the Legal Profession Act.

The hearing found Beaver misappropriated funds from client trusts “in order to finance his personal spending habits and the financial obligations of his practice,” as well as misappropriating the proceeds of the sale of a home.

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The hearing committee heard that Beaver engaged in a variety of improper accounting “tricks” in which trust monies were funnelled into the firm’s general revenues. It also heard from former associates, who described learning from Beaver the extent of the firm’s financial and legal troubles in May 2015 — a time when the firm’s general account had “little or no funds.”

“There was no talking about going to the law society,” one of the associates testified. “There was talk about, ‘Just keep running things, business as usual, don’t tell the staff what’s going on, everything’s going to be fine.’ An absolute and total inability to accept responsibility for what he had done … I knew that that afternoon I was going to have to tell the staff that they didn’t have jobs anymore.”

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In his appeal, heard last fall, Beaver argued the 2017 hearing committee made legal errors or relied on a flawed understanding of the facts in finding him guilty and ending his legal career. He said his conviction should be overturned or, barring that, his punishment reduced to a fine or some other form of sanction.

Among other things, Beaver claimed the hearing committee minimized his diagnoses of alcoholism and depression by referring to them as “ordinary stressors that are expected for practitioners in the demographic of Mr. Beaver.”

However, the appeal panel found no fault in the hearing committee’s reasoning on that or any other point, saying it understood Beaver’s medical issues but “did not accept the argument that these medical states were causally connected to the conduct.”

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Panel members also declined to reduce the $120,000 in legal costs Beaver was ordered to pay following the 2017 decision. The appeal panel said it intends to seek costs against Beaver for the appeal, which have yet to be tallied.

Postmedia reached out to Beaver’s lawyer for comment Saturday but did not hear back.

In 2021, Beaver was sentenced to one year in jail after Court of King’s Bench Justice John Rooke found him guilty of civil contempt for practising law while disbarred and in breach of a court order.

Rooke found Beaver had been “clandestinely” practising law as recently as 2019, acting through a junior lawyer who was later disbarred for participating in the scheme.

The Alberta Court of Appeal reduced the sentence to 90 days (to be served on weekends) after finding errors in Rooke’s decision.

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