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HomeBusinessHong Guo banned from practising law for a year

Hong Guo banned from practising law for a year

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Bob Mackin

Richmond real estate and immigration lawyer Hong Guo is banned from practising law for a year. 

A March 1 decision by the Law Society of B.C. Tribunal’s five-member Review Board rejected the Law Society’s bid to strip Guo of her licence.

Richmond 2018 Mayoral candidate Hong Guo

The Law Society found in November 2021 that Guo committed professional misconduct by misappropriation, breaching trust accounting obligations, failing to properly supervise her bookkeeper, and breaching an undertaking and a Law Society order.

Guo had alleged that bookkeeper Zixin “Jeff” Li took $7.5 million from her firm’s trust accounts for 100 clients in 2016, laundered the cash at a casino and fled to China.

The society found that Guo had signed blank trust cheques and left them with Li before departing on a two-week vacation in March 2016. 

“The bookkeeper was able to orchestrate the theft by crediting fake deposits to a trust account ledger he had set up in a former conveyancing assistant’s name, thereby inflating the apparent balance available for withdrawal,” the 2021 ruling said. 

The Review Board decided that Guo would not be disbarred due to exceptional circumstances, even though she created the circumstances that led to the theft. 

“[Guo] was essentially caught between a rock and a hard place,” said the new ruling. “Whether she took any steps or not, many of her clients’ pending transactions were adversely impacted by the massive theft.”

The misappropriations only occurred in response to the $7.5 million theft and were done to prevent losses to her clients. 

“[Guo] took steps to make her clients whole, including having employee defalcation insurance, asking the Law Society for help and through counsel pursuing the insurer to pay out the claim, which it eventually did after an 18-month delay,” said the ruling. “The Law Society has not alleged, and no hearing panel found, the respondent is ungovernable; and there is no evidence the respondent was dishonest with her clients about her misappropriations.”

By early 2018, Guo had deposited $2.6 million of family money and $4 million from the insurance policy to repay the trust account. The Law Society issued the citation against Guo in September 2018.

The Review Board still had harsh words for Guo. It called the current practice supervision agreement ineffective and said Guo has continued to downplay the pre-theft misconduct and focused on the theft as the underlying problem for her misappropriations and breaches. 

Richmond lawyer Hong Guo announced her run for Mayor of Richmond last June.

The panel also rejected Guo’s arguments that she suffered a breach of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. 

“Although the impact of discipline of a racialized lawyer on a marginalized group of the public may be a mitigating factor in certain circumstances, those circumstances do not arise here.”

The decision set March 8 as the beginning of Guo’s 12-month suspension. Before resuming her career as a lawyer, Guo must also enter, and comply with, a practice supervision agreement acceptable to the Law Society’s practice standards committee.

Guo is also ordered to pay costs and disbursements of $47,329.44 at a rate of $1,000-a-month beginning April 1. 

Guo originally came to Canada in 1993 and studied law at the University of Windsor. She worked in the State Council in China’s central government and was called to the B.C. bar in 2009. Guo finished fourth in the Richmond mayoral election in 2018 after an interview with theBreaker.news in which she denied the existence of China’s well-documented human rights abuses.

Guo was represented by Craig Jones, the Thompson Rivers University law professor who became counsel to Premier David Eby last November. 

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