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Lawyer in Richmond, B.C., disbarred, found ungovernable by law society

Hong Guo, a former mayoral candidate in Richmond, B.C., has been barred from practising law in the province following a lengthy history of professional misconduct, according to the Law Society of B.C. (Hong Guo/Twitter - image credit)
Hong Guo, a former mayoral candidate in Richmond, B.C., has been barred from practising law in the province following a lengthy history of professional misconduct, according to the Law Society of B.C. (Hong Guo/Twitter - image credit)

Hong Guo, a former mayoral candidate in Richmond, B.C., has been barred from practising law in the province after a Law Society of B.C. panel found her ungovernable, saying she is incapable of rehabilitating her professional conduct.

Guo was previously subject to a one-year suspension, starting on March 8, after being found guilty of professional misconduct that wound up facilitating her bookkeeper's theft of $7.5 million in clients' funds.

The panel had previously found that Guo failed to supervise her employees, failed to comply with trust accounting rules and left blank signed trust cheques with her bookkeeper, which it said ultimately led to the thefts that occurred between January 2014 and October 2016.

In declaring Guo ungovernable, the panel cited that case along with a long list of other misconduct violations — including acting in a conflict of interest in a real estate deal.

"The panel finds that the law society has clearly proven, on a balance of probabilities, that the respondent is ungovernable," reads the tribunal decision. "Her [professional conduct record] is lengthy, serious and highly aggravating."

Guo was under the supervision of another lawyer from 2017 until her suspension in March, with the lawyer expected to report on her trust account and her daily dealings.

However, the manager of professional conduct at the law society told the panel that it was "extremely challenging" to monitor her daily activities, and that it was taking up a significant amount of resources.

Guo was subject to a misconduct investigation when she ran for Richmond mayor in 2018 relating to $7.5 million of clients' money being stolen from her trust account.
Guo was subject to a misconduct investigation when she ran for Richmond mayor in 2018 relating to $7.5 million of clients' money being stolen from her trust account.

Guo was subject to a misconduct investigation when she ran for Richmond mayor in 2018. (Hong Guo/Twitter)

Among the various breaches of the law society's code of conduct — including a "consistent failure" to respond to inquiries, misleading behaviour toward clients, and breaching an order to not handle trust money — Guo also was found to have neglected her duties when it came to reporting money in a trust account.

"On November 4, 2018 the respondent wrote to Mr. Wedel, a staff lawyer at the law society and stated that real estate transactions could not be used for money laundering," the panel wrote.

"The respondent is wrong and real estate transactions are at risk for being used to launder money."

Guo's misconduct, relating to the $7.5 million theft by her bookkeper in 2016, was being investigated at the time of her run for mayor of Richmond in 2018. She received about five per cent of the vote in that election.

The tribunal found that on discovering the thefts, Guo misappropriated money from other clients to complete pending real estate transactions.

The clients impacted were eventually compensated by Guo personally and by $4 million paid out by an insurance policy.

Guo says behaviour was not intentionally misleading

In her response to the investigation, Guo submitted that she did not financially benefit from any misconduct and it did not detrimentally impact her clients.

She argued that disbarment was not merited, and instead argued for a one-year suspension to be served concurrently with her current one.

"The respondent submits that any disciplinary penalty must take account of the oftentimes unconscious bias of how non-Asian lawyers perceive Asian lawyers," the tribunal decision reads.

Guo also told the panel that any wrongdoing was "largely due to her busy practice and not to any intentional or premeditated malice, or deceit."

However, the tribunal found that the only appropriate penalty to protect the B.C. public was Guo's disbarment.

"This panel has no confidence that the respondent is rehabilitating herself or improving her methods of practice," reads the decision. "Her overall pattern of conduct is entrenched non-compliance and non-co-operation."

CBC News attempted to contact Guo through her law firm, but its website was offline.