A Kelowna lawyer has been fined $20,000 by his profession's regulator for misconduct and a “cavalier approach” to trust fund management.
Gregg Anthony Alfonso admitted to eight allegations of misconduct spanning three years between 2016 and 2019 and agreed to the penalty, according to a decision from the Law Society of B.C.
The decision states Alfonso accepted two gifts totalling $60,000 from clients without providing legal advice, which is prohibited by the regulator unless the client has received independent legal advice.
“The panel considers that it is self-evident that a gift of $30,000 cannot be characterized as “nominal”. The rule requires that a lawyer take pro-active steps to both inquire and encourage the client to obtain independent legal advice before making a gift of this magnitude. The respondent failed to do so,” the ruling said.
Other admitted allegations of misconduct involve how Alfonso managed trust accounts, with the Law Society stating he treated them as his “own personal deposit account.”
On multiple occasions, Alfonso failed to withdraw money from trust accounts when required and paid personal expenses from them.
“Trust accounting rules are in place to ensure that lawyers appropriately handle and protect client property, while allowing for the expedient completion of various types of transactions,” the decision states.
“The public has a reasonable expectation that lawyers handing trust property will strictly comply with the rules designed to protect clients, given the risk of loss if the rules are not respected. The respondent demonstrated a cavalier approach to trust account management and a misapprehension of the purpose of this tool.”
Alfonso, who has practised law for more than three decades and operated his own sole practice for more than 20 years, settled with the Law Society and agreed to pay $20,000 in penalties and $3,500 in legal costs.