A Winnipeg lawyer was ordered Tuesday to pay almost $30,000 in penalties by the Law Society of Manitoba.
Paul Lasko, 60, pleaded guilty to three counts of professional misconduct Tuesday afternoon at a discipline committee hearing of the law society for abusing client trust accounts.
The penalty consists of a $15,000 fine, $10,500 in costs and $3,125 in restitution to two clients. The $10,500 penalty is to reimburse the law society for its costs associated with investigating the complaints.
The discipline committee also ordered an independent lawyer must review Lasko's trust accounts for the next 12 months, including auditing and co-signing all the accounts.
The complaints date back to 2004.
Lasko and counsel for the law society presented an agreed statement of facts and a joint recommendation to the three-member discipline panel, which consisted of two lawyers and a non-lawyer.
The misconduct involved the improper handling of trust account funds. In one case, Lasko improperly took out his fee from a trust account before giving the client his bill. The client later disputed the amount of the fee.
This is the second offence for Lasko. In 1996, he pleaded guilty to one count of professional misconduct involving misleading a client about the outcome of a case.
Lasko had failed to attend an appeal hearing and the case was dismissed but the lawyer told his client the case was dismissed because the client had failed to attend.
The discipline committee imposed a reprimand and he was ordered to pay costs of almost $1,900.
Law society counsel Paul Jensen said Lasko had failed to follow basic rules all lawyers must adhere to when dealing with client trust funds.
Jensen said one of the clients, a southern Ontario mortgage broker, had subjected the law society and others to dozens of emails, making demands and accusations alleging Lasko stole $5,000 from him, which Jensen said he doesn't believe is supported by evidence. Lasko agreed to pay that client $2,375.
However, Jensen said that client has recently contacted Winnipeg police over the matter.
"If Mr. Lasko had simply followed the simple and straightforward rule (involving trust accounts), the conflict he finds himself in with his client would totally be avoided," Jensen said.
Lasko was represented by lawyer Ian Garber during the hearing, who said Lasko had gone through a great deal of personal turmoil in the past five years, which could have affected his judgment.
Garber said Lasko lost his mother, father-in-law, mother-in-law and an aunt during that time, adding that in addition to the grief, he was suffering great pain while waiting for his surgery.
"The health issues he's been experiencing and the medication he was on clouded his judgment," Garber said.
Lasko agreed to make restitution to the two clients within two weeks and the discipline committee gave him four months to pay the $25,500 in fines and costs.