A Kamloops lawyer with substance-abuse issues has been been suspended from practising law for more than a year for misappropriating funds.
Jeremy Daniel Knight was suspended a minimum 16 months by a Law Society of B.C. tribunal that determined he committed professional misconduct by misappropriating retainer and disbursements funds from two of his clients, who were facing criminal charges, and using the funds for a purpose he knew was not authorized by his client.
The panel also determined Knight failed to comply with his trust accounting obligations concerning the handling of the funds, including failing to deposit the money into a trust account. Instead, he deposited the money into his personal bank account before rendering a bill for legal services. He also failed to record all funds received and disbursed.
While working for Hebert law in May 2017, Knight deposited a $1,000 retainer from a client — referred to in the tribunal’s written decision as TO — into his personal bank account rather than into a trust fund. He didn’t issue a bill beforehand, nor did he perform the legal services that entitled him to the $1,000 retainer, the decision reads. He also failed to make any records regarding receipt of the funds, according to the written decision.
In June 2017, Knight told TO he couldn’t continue as her lawyer because he was on medical leave for a few months, but would transfer the $1,000 to her new lawyer. The medical leave was to attend a residential treatment centre.
Knight became a member of the Law Society of B.C. in May 2015 and struggled with addictions to alcohol, cocaine and gambling, for which he had sought treatment in 2016, a few months before being hired by Hebert Law, according to the decision’s statement of facts.
On July 21, 2017, TO’s new lawyer emailed Natalie Hebert of Hebert Law, requesting the retainer, which had yet to be transferred.
Three days later, according to the written decision, Knight emailed Hebert to say the $1,000 was sitting in his savings account and admitted he should have corrected TO as to the appropriate account to send the money, adding it was a Friday night, he was impaired the whole weekend and forgot about the payment.
Knight admitted he intentionally used some or all of TO’s retainer funds for a purpose other than what was authorized and the tribunal concluded Knight knew he had no right to deposit the funds to his own account, but did so anyway.
On July 24, 2017, Hebert filed a complaint with the Law Society of B.C. regarding Knight’s handling of TO’s trust funds. The next day, Knight electronically transferred $1,000 to TO.
Similar misconduct took place with another client named PP dating back to 2016, according to the written decision.
The tribunal found that on numerous occasions between November 2016 and February 2017, Knight mishandled payments, using them on purposes for which he knew he was not authorized: $480 in cash for legal fees was not deposited in trust, nor documented as payment, a $345 payment for a medical report that had already been paid for was deposited in Knight’s personal account, a $1,000 bail was later deemed payment for legal services and $2,000 for future legal services was deposited into his personal account rather than held in trust.
According to the written decision, Knight never explained what he had done with the payments to his client.
On June 9, 2017, Hebert took over PP’s file and issued a statement of account, after which the client told her it was nice to receive a statement showing how their money had been used, leading Hebert to conduct further inquiries, eventually making a complaint to the Law Society of B.C. on Aug. 11, 2017.
In determining the minimum 16-month suspension, the tribunal considered the intentional nature of Knight’s conduct, his professional conduct record — including practice standards requirements related to his substance-use issues — his acknowledgement of his misconduct and the steps he has taken to address his substance-use problems.
Before Knight may practise law again, he must appear before a board of examiners appointed by the tribunal or the practice standards committee and satisfy it that his competence to practise law is not affected by a substance-abuse problem. He will remain subject to practice restrictions until he is relieved of them by the discipline committee.
Michael Potestio, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Kamloops This Week