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B.C. lawyer Hong Guo disbarred a 2nd time for being 'ungovernable'

Hong Guo hired lawyers in Canada and China to investigate after more than $7.5 million was stolen from a Guo Law Company trust account. Hong Guo hired lawyers in Canada and China to investigate after more than $7.5 million was stolen from a Guo Law Company trust account.
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A Richmond lawyer who has been at the centre of Law Society of B.C. discipline proceedings for years has been disbarred for a second time.

Hong Guo was deemed "ungovernable" and disbarred last year, with a panel of the law society tribunal citing her lengthy disciplinary history and failure to co-operate with regulators. 

"The respondent has sought a review of that decision," reads a new discipline decision issued last week and published online Tuesday. 

"As a result, the law society, consistent with past practice, has decided to proceed with this hearing to obtain a second declaration."

The latest decision stems from five allegations of misconduct the law society made against Guo in a citation issued in October 2020.

The panel concluded in July 2023 that those allegations – specifically that Guo had "acted in a conflict of interest," "acted contrary to the trust accounting rules," "permitted her trust account to be misused," "made false or misleading statements to the law society," and "failed to respond to the law society" – had been proven. 

In its decision on sanctions in the case, the panel considered not only the specifics of the misconduct itself, but also Guo's "extensive professional conduct record," which dates back to 2012.

A central incident in that record is the theft of $7.5 million in client trust funds by Guo's former bookkeeper in 2016.

The law society has consistently held in discipline decisions involving Guo that she "facilitated" that theft by failing to adequately supervise her employee, failing to fully comply with the society's trust accounting rules and leaving signed blank cheques in her bookkeeper's care.

In her own version of events, published on the Clearway Law website last year, Guo claims that the law society "publicly accused" her of participating in the theft and funnelling the funds to an offshore account.

She says she did no such thing, and notes that she spent several years tracking down and prosecuting the perpetrators of the theft in China. She also says she went to great lengths to ensure that the $7.5 million shortfall was covered and no client lost their funds as a result of the theft.

Guo claims that the law society "misrepresented and distorted the facts" and has harmed her mental health with their "prolonged persecution" of her.

The law society's latest decision makes no accusation that Guo kept the funds, nor does it claim that clients were not made whole after the theft. Rather, it reiterates that Guo did not follow the law society's rules and notes that she has repeatedly failed to acknowledge her role in allowing the theft to take place.

"In the respondent’s direct evidence at the facts and determination hearing in this matter, she described at great length the details of the theft, her efforts to seek justice in China against the bookkeeper and his accomplice, and the efforts she made to ensure her clients were not harmed," the decision reads.

"She repeated the same story during her submissions in this hearing. At no time did she refer to the fact that she had facilitated the theft. Nor did she acknowledge that her efforts to avoid loss for her clients involved misappropriation from other clients, breach of an undertaking given to the law society and breach of a (law society rule) 3-10 order."

Guo's continued refusal to acknowledge her past misconduct, along with the panel's findings on the five allegations that led to the latest decision, prompted the panel to once again declare her "ungovernable."

"The fact that she can not be trusted to be truthful, accurate and responsive, and that she shows no insight which would enable her to rehabilitate herself makes her ungovernable," the decision reads.

"The totality of the numerous findings made against her for conduct spanning more than a decade show that she cannot be trusted to comply with her obligations as a lawyer in the future."

Disbarment is the "necessary" consequence for any lawyer found to be ungovernable, according to the panel's decision.

The panel also considered the misconduct itself, separate from the question of ungovernability, and determined that – in light of Guo's professional conduct record and the seriousness of her misconduct – the appropriate consequence would be disbarment even if she were not found ungovernable.

"The public interest requires that the respondent not be permitted to practice law," the decision reads.

In addition to its finding of ungovernability and its order that Guo be disbarred for a second time, the panel also ordered her to pay the law society $45,497.95 for the cost of the hearing.

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