B.C. lawyer disbarred for bilking legal aid

The Law Society of British Columbia has disbarred a Smithers, B.C., lawyer for professional misconduct.

A law society hearing panel found that between April 2007 and November 2008, Laurel Elizabeth Hudson knowingly and systematically submitted numerous false invoices to the Legal Services Society on her behalf, and on behalf of other lawyers employed at her firm.

Hudson was practising in Smithers at the time she submitted the false accounts. The invoices included falsely billing for time spent by lawyers in order to recover time spent by legal assistants. The LSS, which runs B.C.’s legal aid system, did not permit billing for work performed by legal assistants.

As a result, Hudson received thousands of dollars from the LSS to which she was not entitled under her contract — the LSBC’s hearing panel decision doesn’t give an actual dollar figure. At the time, Hudson had been practising as a lawyer for about seven years. In 2007, her practice was audited by LSS and she was cautioned that billing for legal assitants’ time was not permitted, but she found another way.

“The ways in which the LSS accounts were falsified changed twice. The Respondent admitted in the Agreed Statement of Facts that she was responsible for both changes. The changes were made in order to avoid LSS detecting the deceit,” notes the hearing panel decision.

The decision states that between October 2007 and April 2008 Hudson altered time records of lawyers who worked at her firm to include about 20-per-cent more hours than had actually been worked by the lawyers and caused at least nine false accounts to be submitted to the LSS based on the altered records. Hudson’s response to that particular allegation was:

“Specifically, I considered that the work done by my Assistants was valuable enough to our clients that its exclusion from the LSS billing protocol was improper, and that my actions were therefore justified. Essentially I thought, wrongfully, that I knew better than LSS. I regret this.”

The decision notes Hudson had not been practising recently as she was on sick leave resulting from a marriage breakdown and other personal issues “her counsel termed ‘a complete derailment’ of her personal life.” However, it states her misconduct was “wilful and voluntary” and not related to her personal circumstances, which arose years after the misconduct began.

In considering the matter, the hearing panel concluded disbarment was the only appropriate punishment: “Any other sanction would compromise the public confidence in the profession’s integrity and suggest that the legal profession does not take dishonesty committed by lawyers seriously.”

Hudson is also required to pay the cost of the hearing in the amount of $13,860.

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