An Ontario lawyer and lay minister with the Jehovah’s Witness church was criticized by a judge for failing to tell a former client who left part of his estate to the church about his own role with them.
Orangeville, Ont. lawyer Daniel Pole helped Arthur Sawdon form an investment company in the Cayman Islands during the 1990s. In 2006, he also updated Sawdon’s will and executed a transfer of his 75 per cent holding in the company to the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Canada, the Jehovah’s Witness church’s legal arm.
After Sawdon’s death a year later, a dispute arose over the status of seven bank accounts worth $1 million. The Watch Tower claimed the accounts were part of Sawdon’s estate, supported by Pole, who testified that the deceased intended to include them.
But in a decision released last week, Ontario Superior Court Justice Leonard Ricchetti concluded that Swadon held the accounts jointly with some of his children, and they were not part of the estate. In coming to the conclusion, Ricchetti said he rejected Pole’s evidence entirely.
“I find it surprising and questionable that Mr. Pole would not disclose a conflict or even a potential conflict that he was an ‘elder’ or ‘lay minister’ with the Jehovah’s Witness church and had acted for the Jehovah’s Witness church prior to the preparation of the 2004 will or the July 2006 will or the Transfer and Assignment. Mr. Pole’s reason for not doing so — because he wasn’t wearing his Jehovah’s Witness ‘hat’ at the time — is simply not a good answer. Arthur Sawdon and the other shareholders of Sawdon Holdings were entitled to know all of Mr. Pole’s ‘hats’ when Mr. Pole provided advice or prepared documents for Arthur Sawdon,” Ricchetti wrote adding:
“Some of Mr. Pole’s answers made little sense. For example, Mr. Pole’s evidence as to knowing Arthur Sawdon’s intention regarding the Joint Bank Accounts after his death make no sense when Mr. Pole didn’t know the joint nature of the bank accounts until after Arthur Sawdon’s death.”
Ricchetti said Pole’s actions after Swadron’s death were “demonstrative of an appearance of bias in favour of the Watch Tower.” According to the judgment, Pole ignored the instructions of Sawdon’s son, the executor of his estate, not to tell the Watch Tower about their potential entitlement to the will. Pole also attempted to speed the transfer of shares in Sawdon’s investment company to the Watch Tower without authorization from potentially interested parties.
“I reject Mr. Pole’s explanations as to his authority to pursue the transfer to the Watch Tower as his explanations are wrong in law and appear to be an effort to justify taking his actions,” Ricchetti wrote.
Update April 25, 2013: The headline and opening paragraph of this article have been updated.