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Surrey lawyer disbarred for pilfering client funds

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Surrey lawyer Rudi Gellert has been disbarred for professional misconduct.

The Law Society of B.C. found that Gellert, 70, deliberately misappropriated more than $14,000 in client trust funds.

The theft, according to the law society, was discovered through a routine audit three-and-a-half years ago.

It was found that the misappropriated $14,486 involved 31 different clients and 31 transactions. Most of the transactions involved cancelling stale-dated trust cheques made out to the client and then paying the same amount either to Gellert's law firm or a company run by his wife. Most went to the latter.

The transactions ranged from one penny to $5,200 and occurred from March 2008 to September 2010.

“Deliberate misappropriation of funds is among the very most serious betrayals of a client’s trust and constitutes gross dishonesty," said the law society ruling.

The three-person panel also said Gellert failed to respond to communications from the law society about the account irregularities and made threatening comments to an auditor at his Surrey office in 2010.

"Shortly after the two law society auditors arrived, the respondent expressed displeasure with one of them and told the other that if he had a gun he would shoot someone," said the hearing decision.

Gellert ceased being a member of the law society in January 2011 due to non-payment of fees and did not attend the hearing or send anyone on his behalf.

The law society panel found no evidence that any of the 31 clients complained, but said that was insignificant as it didn't make the infraction any less serious.

The panel called Gellert's conduct record a "particularly aggravating factor."

Twelve prior findings of professional misconduct have been made against Gellert between 1999 and 2003. The panel said he came close to being disbarred in 2005, but wasn't because of "significant mitigating circumstances" that resulted in a less-severe 18-month suspension.

As well as being disbarred, Gellert has been ordered to pay hearing costs of $8,630.

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