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B.C. lawyer suspended after mistakenly using elderly couple's cash

Lawyer David Schaeffer withdrew $9,903 from the couple's accounts in 33 separate withdrawals after he says he mixed up his debit cards.
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An apparent debit crad snafu has landed one B.C. lawyer a one-month suspension

A B.C. lawyer says he’s “deeply remorseful” after claiming he erroneously withdrew nearly $9,000 in personal expenses from a very elderly couple’s bank account, while he was acting as their power of attorney.

Vernon-based lawyer David Leslie Schaeffer will now be suspended for one month starting March 1, after a Law Society of BC hearing panel found Schaeffer committed professional misconduct.

"The type of conduct exhibited by [Schaeffer] undermines the public’s trust in lawyers," the society argued to the panel of adjudicators.

In October, 2018, Schaeffer was appointed power of attorney for “DE” and “AE” who were 88 and 95 at the time and both suffering from cognitive issues.

According to the panel decision, society investigators opened an investigation on Schaeffer based on concerns identified by Schaeffer’s former law partner. Schaeffer had ended his partnership in May 2020 and has since carried on as a sole practitioner.

At issue was over $11,000 of withdrawals from the elderly couple’s account, to which Schaeffer held the debit card for.

“In respect of each of the erroneous transactions, the Respondent (Schaeffer) believed he was using funds from his personal account. At the time of the errors, the Respondent had a business Visa credit card issued by the same bank as the debit card for the Clients’ Accounts. The cards for each account were the same colour and required the same PIN codes,” the panel stated in its Jan. 22 decision.

Schaeffer told the society he mixed up his own personal banking cards with that of his clients’, which he kept in his wallet.

Aside from the mistake, Schaeffer also faced scrutiny over a lack of record-keeping for the account.

Between Jan. 3, 2019 and April 14, 2020, Schaeffer withdrew $9,903 from the couple’s accounts in 33 separate withdrawals. However, Schaeffer only retained receipts relating to those withdrawals totalling approximately $1,000, the panel stated.

The panel noted that the code of conduct for B.C. lawyers requires that “a lawyer must clearly label and identify clients’ property and place it in safekeeping distinguishable from the lawyer’s own property.”

Schaeffer did not admit to such a violation but did admit to inadvertently using funds for his own personal use on nine occasions.

The joint submissions of the society and Schaeffer in the hearing and Schaeffer’s overall admission of misconduct were mitigating factors, the panel stated.

As well, Schaeffer voluntarily completed legal accounting courses and a course on acting for clients with dementia.

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