The Law Society of British Columbia has disbarred lawyer Peter Darren Steven Hart, commonly known as Darren Hart, (for a second time.)
The 2nd disbarment was for professional misconduct involving the “self-serving” handling of funds entrusted to him by a vulnerable client, including taking the owners of his company, Hart Management, on a trip to Las Vegas with the improperly obtained money. The lawyers and staff paid for their own flights and hotel.
The Las Vegas trip involved:
- Spending $15,000 on a poolside cabana at the Cosmopolitan hotel
- VIP booths at the Foundation Room Las Vegas (Mandalay Bay Hotel)
- A Louis Vuitton purse for his business partner, Sylvia Murr of Victoria BC
- Steak dinners at STK Steakhouse (both in Vegas and later in Los Angeles)
- Suites at The Cosmopolitan
- Tickets for DJs in Las Vegas
A total of around $50,000 was spent.
Photo: A picture of the Las Vegas cabana
After the Vegas trip, the owners of Hart Management (Hart Legal) continued their spending spree in Beverly Hills. Those who were on the Vegas and Beverly Hills trip stated that Hart Legal investor money was also used to pay for the trips, in addition to client money.
In addition to extravagant trips, Darren Hart and Sylvia Murr, who ran Hart Management together, also rented a luxury condo at the Fairmont Pacific Rim in Vancouver. They also rented a condo in Beverly Hills.
Money from clients and investors went towards paying off debt that the two were personally liable for. This debt included money owed to HSBC and Merchant Growth. The debt totalled around $500,000.
Darren Hart disciplinary decision
According to a disciplinary decision released by the Law Society, Hart was acting for a mentally ill client who was undergoing psychiatric care in a divorce case where she was set to receive a multi-million-dollar settlement.
The Law Society panel found that Hart had “exploited” the client for his own benefit, providing her with a dishonest and “abysmal quality of service” by duping her into signing a contingency fee agreement for 20 percent of any settlement reached.
The deal was both “unfair and unethical,” the panel found, adding that Hart simply ignored his client’s wishes and began pushing the other side for a settlement while pocketing more than $1 million in fees. The disciplinary decision states that Hart’s actions were “dishonest and a gross abuse of his vulnerable client.”
In 2021, a previous employee at Hart Legal won a judgement in the BC Supreme Court of around $165,000 against Sylvia Murr and Darren Hart’s company. The employee had lent the two money, which they had never repaid. However, that judgment was not part of the Law Society’s complaint(s).
Also in 2021, Mr. Hart and Ms. Murr settled with some of the investors who put money into Hart Legal. The investors were suing Hart Legal in BC Supreme Court.
There are still ongoing lawsuits against Mr. Hart and Ms. Murr filed in the Vancouver BC court.
Law Society of British Columbia
Hart used the improperly obtained money to pay off debts and fund his law practice, in addition to the Vegas vacation for his office staff. Meanwhile, his client became “destitute” even though her divorce case was supposed to leave her with a substantial settlement and leave her financially secure. The B.C. Supreme Court ordered Hart to pay back the client more than a million dollars in 2018, but the panel found he’s paid her just more than $18,000.
Called to the bar in 1994, Hart’s disciplinary history includes improper handling and misappropriation of client funds, which also saw him ordered disbarred in July 2021 by the regulator.
Not mincing words in its damning indictment of Hart’s actions, the Law Society’s disciplinary panel’s decision describes Hart’s behaviour as “extremely grave,” having betrayed and misled a mentally ill client “solely for his own personal financial benefit.”
Lawyer stealing money from client
“The client has suffered irreparable emotional and financial harm that she will never recover from,” the panel’s decision states.
Hart was found to have taken $1.127 million from the client’s settlement fund, well over the $300,000 that he was set to receive under the unfair fee agreement he’s said to have “forced” the woman into while acting for her. Despite being ordered to repay the money, Hart barely made a dent in the debt, paying back less than he used on his office’s Vegas vacation, the panel found.
“The Panel emphasizes that this was the deliberate and calculated abuse of a mentally ill client for [Hart’s] own financial benefit,” the decision states. “[Hart] acted with a complete lack of integrity.”
In the past, disciplinary panels have disbarred lawyers for conduct that was much less serious than Hart’s, and the panel in his case found that there were no mitigating circumstances justifying anything less than disbarment. Hart, the panel found, had tried “repeatedly” to make excuses for his “indefensible behaviour.” Lawyers who act in such a way “have no place in the legal profession,” the decision states.
Law firm complaints
“Lawyers are supposed to be the ones protecting vulnerable people,” the decision states. “The public should be able to rely on their lawyer to act in their best interests, treating them with respect, honesty and candour.”
Through his actions, the panel found that Hart had “dishonoured the legal profession” by compromising the “sanctity of the solicitor-client relationship”.
“Other lawyers have been disbarred for far less,” the decision states.
The panel awarded the Law Society of B.C. more than $60,000 in costs and ordered Hart disbarred under the provincial Legal Professions Act.
The Law Society’s case against Hart was years in the making. The regulator originally issued its citation in May 2019, involving the disgraced lawyer’s shady dealings with the client between March and November 2014. According to an earlier decision posted online by the Law Society, Hart had told his client that her divorce settlement could be worth more than $8 million, which the Law Society characterized as a baseless assertion.
Unethical law firms
When Hart’s firm took her on, the client was a former senior mining company executive in a dire state. She had attempted suicide after a mental breakdown and was involuntarily committed after her mental health took a turn for the worse during her marriage to a “high earning executive” with a net worth of more than $15 million. At the time, she was broke and earning no money and was primarily concerned with getting spousal support.
Hart’s firm failed to get her the support she was seeking, and in the seven months acting for her had not made any substantial progress on her file. The Law Society found that Hart hadn’t even met her in person, communicating with her by phone, over email, and through text messages. It takes a lot of wrongdoing for a lawyer to get disbarred twice.
The public needs to learn about the law so they can protect themselves from bad lawyers.
B.C. Supreme Court judge
In October 2013, Hart was found to have signed a deal with opposing counsel that didn’t include spousal support, misleading her into believing it would come later. A fee review by a B.C. Supreme Court judge later struck down the contingency fee agreement for being “unfair and unjust.” Hart and his firm, the court found, “had obtained a very poor result for the Client – essentially her worst-case result had the matter proceeded to trial.”
For his part, Hart had “freely admitted” that he failed to take notes and was “evasive” during his testimony in court, giving evidence that “was not credible.” The Law Society claims he was dismissive of his client’s needs, viewing her “with contempt” even though he knew she was desperate for money while undergoing treatment for mental health issues.
Lawyer disbarred twice conclusion
In the end, the Law Society of B.C.’s Hearing Panel found that three allegations of professional misconduct had been proven against Hart: that he charged “absurdly” unfair and unreasonable fees to the client; that he failed to provide quality service to her befitting of a competent lawyer; and that he failed to act with honesty and integrity in his dealings with the client by “purposely” misleading her about the settlement agreement.
In July 2021, the B.C. Supreme Court appointed a custodian over Hart’s law practice.
We hope you found this article on how the lawyer got disbarred twice interesting. Darren Hart and Sylvia Murr ran Hart Legal, and a lot of people were harmed. Always check a lawyer’s online reviews before hiring.