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West Vancouver mayor suspended from practicing law for 2 years after admitting misconduct

Mayor can't practice law

West Vancouver Mayor Mark Sager has been prohibited from practicing law for two years, after agreeing that he committed professional misconduct in handling an elderly client’s estate.

Details of the agreement between Sager and the Law Society of B.C.’s disciplinary tribunal were released Wednesday, days before a previously scheduled disciplinary hearing was set to begin.

According to the terms of the agreement, Sager has admitted to the misconduct and agreed not to work as a lawyer, including roles involved in handling of several estates, from April onwards.

Misconduct involves handling of friend's will

The misconduct relates to Sager’s preparation of a friend’s will and his subsequent conduct as executor and trustee of that person’s estate between 2010 and 2020.

Sager admitted to acting in a conflict of interest by causing the preparation of the will – in which he was named executor and trustee and received absolute discretion to use estate funds to travel to England – when his client had not received independent legal advice.

He also admitted to withdrawing $44,800 in executor’s fees and more than $26,000 in management fees from the estate without receiving approval from the beneficiaries or the court to do so.

Sager further admitted to not maintaining proper records regarding the estate funds and not keeping in contact with the residual beneficiaries – including four local West Vancouver charitable groups – for approximately nine years.

Four West Van charitable groups among beneficiaries

According to details set out in the Law Society’s written summary of agreed-on facts, Sager’s friend first made a will in 2005, leaving 60 per cent of her estate to her sister in England while 40 per cent was to be split between four non-profit groups: the West Vancouver Seniors Activity Centre, St. Christopher’s Anglican Church, the BC SPCA and the West Vancouver Memorial Library Foundation.

In 2010, the friend – referred to in the Law Society documents as OM – was told she had a terminal illness and changed her will, giving her sister a “life interest” in the estate and making Sager trustee, giving him absolute discretion to disburse money to the sister and visit her in England. Following the sister’s death, money remaining was to go to the four charities. The friend, OM, didn’t get independent legal advice before making those changes, as required, according to the summary.

When OM died several months later, her estate was worth just over $882,000.

Another lawyer at Sager’s firm reminded him in a memo that he needed to get consent from the beneficiaries regarding his fees. Despite this, in December 2010, Sager prepared an account for $40,000 in executor’s fees and taxes and withdrew $44,800 in estate funds the same day, according to the summary. Over the next decade, Sager also paid himself more than $26,000 in “management” fees and taxes, without the approval of the beneficiaries.

During that same time period, Sager also made “at least 18 trips to England” to visit OM’s sister, invoicing and reimbursing himself more than $162,800 in travel expenses – again without approval of beneficiaries.

Sager also mistakenly reimbursed himself from the estate funds for expenses which shouldn’t have been included, according to the summary, including purchases of clothing in London shops, including Harrod’s, a stay at a hotel in Nice, France and a three-night stay in London.

A cheque for $2,000 to West Vancouver’s Kay Meek Arts Centre was also paid from the estate, although Kay Meek was not a beneficiary of the will.

Questions raised about estate accounts

Sager didn’t keep in contact with the charitable groups that were beneficiaries, according to the summary, and following the death of OM’s sister in 2019, those groups raised concerns and asked questions about the accounting of the estate.

Sager “failed to maintain complete records in respect of the disbursement of the estate funds” and “invoiced the estate and reimbursed himself from the estate funds for flights to and from London and car rentals in England based on quotes, as opposed to receipts, that did not align with his actual travel dates” according to the summary.

He also reimbursed himself from estate funds for other travel expenses “without having provided any supporting documentation as well as after having only provided non-itemized credit card receipts, credit card statements and illegible receipts” according to the Law Society’s written summary of agreed-on facts.

The charitable groups were each paid an interim distribution of about $185,600 from the will, plus a further amount of about $14,500.

Sager voluntarily paid back half of fees

In 2023, Sager volunteered to repay $40,857, which included half of the executor’s fees, half of the management fees and $8,800 in expenses the Law Society alleged had been improperly charged to the estate.

That money was redistributed to the four charitable groups in August.

In an emailed statement to the North Shore News, Sager said “I am very happy this matter has been resolved.”

He added that five of the eight original complaints against him by the Law Society had been dropped. “The three which I agreed to were minor issues and never in dispute by me,” he said, adding he was “very proud of how I looked after my friend’s sister for ten years.”

The citation containing the allegations against Sager was first issued by the law society during the local election campaign.

But Sager’s name and any identifying details were removed from the citation after Sager filed an application to keep the information anonymous.

The law society eventually rejected that request, with an adjudicator ruling that Sager’s role as mayor didn’t make him “more deserving of anonymity” than other lawyers.

This isn’t the first time Sager has been in trouble with the law society.

Sager previously fined for professional misconduct

In 2020, Sager was fined $20,000 and ordered to pay a further $20,000 in legal costs by the law society after being found guilty of professional misconduct that involved directing a will be prepared for his godmother that named Sager as one of the beneficiaries. The new will had the effect of cutting out one of the woman’s relatives while including Sager and his sister. Following the elderly woman’s death, Sager received a cheque for his share of the estate amounting to $96,000.

In its ruling in 2019, the disciplinary panel found Sager’s breach of the rules was “a marked departure from the standard that the law society expects of lawyers."

According to the Law Society summary of the most recent investigation, between 2010 and 2020, about 10 per cent of Sager’s legal practice was comprised of work relating to estates.



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