The Law Society of British Columbia has disbarred a BC lawyer, Darren Hart, for the second time.
Background on the story:
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 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 around $15,000 on a poolside cabana at the Cosmopolitan hotel
- VIP booths at the Foundation Room Las Vegas (Mandalay Bay Hotel)
- A pair of around $2000 shoes 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 $40,000 was spent.
Photo: A picture of the Las Vegas Cabana
Many personal expenses
The managers of the Victoria BC law firm (Darren Hart, Sylvia Murr) also spent company money on golfing, vacations, Botox, medical spas, cash withdrawals, day-to-day expenses for their families, Itunes, the lawyer’s cottage on Hornby Island, Netflix, lots of clothing, and many seafood restaurants.
A ton of investor money also went towards paying off debt that Sylvia Murr was personally liable for.
Those who were on the Vegas and Beverly Hills trips stated that the law firm’s investor money was also used to pay for the trips, in addition to client money.
The Unprecedented Case: Disbarment of a Lawyer Twice
In addition to extravagant trips, Darren Hart and Sylvia Murr, who ran the law firm together until August 2017, also rented a luxury condo at the Fairmont Pacific Rim in Vancouver, which was hardly used. 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 Loans”. The debt totalled around $850,000.
The lawyer’s disciplinary decision
According to a disciplinary decision released by the Law Society, Darren 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 Darren 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 the BC lawyer 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 Darren Hart’s actions were “dishonest and a gross abuse of his vulnerable client.”
An employee also files a lawsuit
In 2021, a previous employee at the law firm won a judgment in the BC Supreme Court of around $165,000 against Sylvia Murr and the lawyer’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, Darren Hart and Sylvia Murr settled with some of the investors who put money into the Victoria law firm. The investors were suing the law firm in the BC Supreme Court.
Photo: From the Law Societies’ decision. The Respondent did not pay for his entire office to go, the staff paid for their own trips.
Law Society of British Columbia
Darren 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 the lawyer 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.
Legal Ethics and Double Disbarment: What Went Wrong?
Called to the bar in 1994, the lawyer’s disciplinary history includes improper handling and misappropriation of client funds, which also saw him ordered disbarred in July 2021 by the regulator.
Darren Hart held himself out as being in business with his law firm since 1992, even though he wasn’t called then, He started the company with Sylvia Murr around 2012.
Not mincing words in its damning indictment of the Vancouver lawyer’s actions, the Law Society’s disciplinary panel’s decision describes the Vancouver lawyer’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.
The Victoria BC law firm 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, the lawyer 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 his own financial benefit,” the decision states. “The lawyer acted with a complete lack of integrity.
In the past, disciplinary panels have disbarred lawyers for conduct that was much less serious than the lawyer’s, and the panel in his case found that there were no mitigating circumstances justifying anything less than disbarment.
The lawyer, 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 the BC lawyer 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 the lawyer disbarred under the provincial Legal Professions Act.
Key Lessons from the Double Disbarment of a Practicing Lawyer
Darren Hart went bankrupt in 2023, having almost $3,000,000 in debt and judgments against him.
The Law Society’s case against the BC lawyer 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, the lawyer 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 the law 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.
The law 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 Darren 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, Mr. 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.” The lawyer 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, the Vancouver lawyer 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 the BC lawyer.
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 the law firm.
We hope you found this article on how the lawyer got disbarred twice interesting. The BC lawyer and Sylvia Murr ran the law firm, and a lot of people were harmed. Always check a lawyer’s online reviews before hiring.