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Former Surrey lawyer who wrote blank cheques for staff disbarred over misappropriation of client funds

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A former Surrey lawyer has been disbarred for misappropriating client funds from his trust account, breaching undertakings and failing to adequately supervise staff.

Tejinder Singh Dhillon resigned from the Law Society of B.C. with the consent of the society's executive director in June 2019, but discipline proceedings against him that were already in progress continued.

Earlier this week, a hearing panel of the society reached its decision on sanctions for misconduct Dhillon admitted to in an amended citation submitted on the final day of his hearing on the facts of the case. 

Among the misconduct Dhillon admitted, according to the decision, was enabling the unauthorized transfer of $1 million of a client's money from his trust account to a numbered company of which Dhillon was an officer and director.

"Although the funds were eventually returned to the respondent’s trust account, this did not happen until two months after the unauthorized transfer of the money," the decision reads.

Dhillon enabled misappropriation from his account by providing his office manager and bookkeeper with pre-signed blank trust cheques and online access to his trust account, the hearing panel noted.

"On another occasion, the respondent enabled an unauthorized payment of client funds to a relative involved in work on a townhouse project undertaken by the aforementioned numbered company of which the respondent was an officer and director," the decision continues.

This money was also eventually returned, according to the decision.

In fact, while there were several instances of misappropriation of client funds totalling more than $1.5 million, the decision indicates that all the money taken was returned and "no client lost their funds."

The discipline panel noted this fact, but concluded it didn't mitigate the seriousness of Dhillon's misconduct.

"In our view, the fact that no client ultimately lost their money held in trust does not alter the fact that the respondent’s reckless and negligent supervision of his staff enabled the misappropriated their funds, and does not ease the seriousness of this professional misconduct," the decision reads.

"Our conclusion on the nature, gravity and consequences of the respondent’s multifaceted professional misconduct is that it is serious, and inexcusable."

Dhillon argued that he should not be disbarred for his misconduct, asking for a suspension of eight to 12 months instead.

The panel disagreed with this submission, concluding that disbarment was necessary to protect public confidence in the profession.

"The return of misappropriated funds to trust and the absence of harm to clients are not mitigating factors in our opinion because accepting them as such could enable lawyers to evade accountability for their misconduct," the decision reads.

"Additionally, despite the respondent having resigned as a member of the law society, a disbarment order is still necessary. This result aligns with the sanction that we would have imposed had he continued to be a practicing lawyer, and upholds public confidence in the regulation of lawyer conduct by the law society."

The panel also ordered Dhillon to pay $31,501.48 in investigation costs to the law society. 

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