Sunday, July 10, 2022
The Law Society of Alberta Appeal Division agreed with a Hearing Committee that disbarment was appropriate for misuse of entrusted funds
In summary, while a member of another large national law firm in its Calgary office, Mr. Liakopoulos agreed to act as trustee of the Trust upon its formation in approximately 2006. The Beneficiary was a company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands.
over a period of approximately two years (2016 - 2018), Mr. Liakopoulos transferred significant sums of money (more than one million dollars) from the Trust to the account of a numbered company, of which he was the sole shareholder and director. The money was used by Mr. Liakopoulos personally for gambling purposes. Restitution by Mr. Liakopoulos was never made. Mr. Liakopoulos was suspended on March 15, 2019 after an investigation by the LSA following Mr. Liakopoulos’ submission of a self-report to the LSA on August 7, 2018 (Self-Report).
At issue on appeal
At the Hearing, Liakopoulos provided a letter dated February 14, 2020, from Dr. RH (the Dr. RH Letter) indicating that Liakopoulos had been in his care since 2018 for his gambling addiction. The Dr. RH Letter described previous diagnoses and prescriptions as “spurious” and distracting from his diagnosis of addiction. Dr. RH diagnosed Liakopoulos as having met the criteria for Pathological Gambling Addiction and considered him unfit for work until the end of January 2019 due to addiction and mental health problems. He detailed the treatment programs Liakopoulos had attended subsequent to his resignation. The Dr. RH Letter indicated that Liakopoulos faced extreme financial and emotional hardship over the prior two years, expressed the view that the defalcation occurred because of the addiction and mental health issues and expressed the conclusion that Liakopoulos was the subject of a wrongful dismissal. This report was only provided to the Committee and counsel for the LSA shortly before the Hearing commenced. Dr. RH was not called to give evidence, nor was he qualified as an expert witness or in relation to his particular medical expertise.
Apart from the Dr. RH Letter, no independent medical evidence was provided to the Committee at the Hearing or in any of the exhibits in the Exhibit Binder…
Dr. RH was not qualified as a medical expert or called to testify
Mr. Liakopoulos submits that the Decision of the Committee was unreasonable, the appeal should be allowed, the sanction of disbarment should be set aside and a sanction that is reasonable having regard to Mr. Liakopoulos’ mental illness of addiction be substituted instead. It must be said that Mr. Liakopoulos’ submissions were at times confusing in terms of the result which he sought from the Appeal Panel. See for example, his submission at page 15 of the Appeal Transcript where Mr. Liakopoulos argued that he is not asserting that the medical evidence be used so as to allow him to resume the practice of law. Rather, that it be admitted and acknowledged that he suffered from a mental illness and that formed the basis for the decision to disbar him.
Mr. Liakopoulos argues there is sufficient and credible evidence of his mental illness of addiction on the record and evidence of a causal link between the conduct and his mental illness of addiction.
The Appeal Division
The evidence here in the form of the Dr. RH Letter was reviewed and assessed by the Committee and given the weight which it believed it deserved. Based on that limited evidence it found that the evidence was problematic and failed to establish a causal link between Mr. Liakopoulos’ issues related to gambling and the behaviour under consideration. The Committee was not unreasonable to have so found on the evidence before it.