New Brunswick

Lawyer who stole $740,000 from clients should be disbarred, law society says

Yassin Choukri, a former deputy attorney general who stole more than $740,000 from his clients, should no longer be allowed to practise law, according to the Law Society of New Brunswick, and should be ordered to cover the costs of repaying his victims.

Yassin Choukri may be ordered to pay the Law Society of New Brunswick more than $500,000

Fredericton lawyer Yassin Choukri was deemed to have abandoned his law practice and another lawyer was appointed custodian. (Charles LeBlanc/YouTube)

A former deputy attorney general who stole more than $740,000 from his clients should no longer be allowed to practise law, according to the Law Society of New Brunswick.

Yassin Choukri should also cover the costs of repaying the clients he stole from and reimburse the law society for thousands of dollars spent investigating his misconduct, a lawyer for the law society told a disciplinary panel on Friday.

The three-member panel reserved its decision on sanctions until Tuesday, when the law society expects to have a better estimate of the financial cost of Choukri's misconduct.

If the panel, a creation of the law society, orders Choukri to pay up, his bill will easily surpass $500,000.

Shirley MacLean, the registrar of complaints with the law society, believes Choukri's case could be the largest in 20 years, based on the amount of money that's been misappropriated.

She said the law society will take civil action to try to get Choukri to pay.

Still, the society may never see a penny. In many cases, disbarred lawyers don't work and don't have money or property, MacLean said.

"But the law society will make best efforts to obtain costs from the former member if we can."

Choukri didn't appear at Friday's hearing.

The law society tried to serve notice of the hearing to Choukri at an apartment building in Mississauga, where it had previously been able to serve him.

But this time, Choukri had a security guard escort the person delivering the notice out of the building, according to Joel Michaud, a lawyer for the law society.

"We surmised that Mr. Choukri is doing all he can to avoid service," Michaud said.

Some clients already repaid

Yassin Choukri didn't attend disciplinary hearings in October or December. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

Choukri was also a no-show at a disciplinary hearing in October.

The law society's rules say a lawyer who doesn't respond to charges is deemed to be admitting to them.

At that hearing, the law society outlined how 10 former clients had their money misappropriated by Choukri to the tune of more than $740,000.

Hopefully, it will strengthen the public's trust in the legal profession.- Joel  Michaud , lawyer for law society

In some cases, the client never received money they won in settlements..

Some of that money — $231,149.53 — has already been repaid to clients through the law society's compensation fund. Another $250,000 is likely to be repaid. The law society doesn't expect clients to file claims for the rest of the money Choukri took.

The payouts come from the pockets of every lawyer in New Brunswick.

The law society has also paid more than $121,000 to hire a custodian to oversee all of Choukri's files, plus another $43,000 to investigate the case.

Michaud didn't have an exact estimate of how much the law society expects Choukri to pay.

That's expected to be revealed when the disciplinary panel issues its ruling on Tuesday.

Argues for disbarment

Shirley MacLean, the registrar of complaints with the Law Society of New Brunswick, says the law society won't settle for anything less than disbarment in Choukri's case. (CBC)

The typical punishment for abandoning a legal practice or misappropriation is disbarment.

To avoid that, a lawyer has to present clear evidence of mitigating factors.

Choukri hasn't done that, Michaud said.

"Worse, we are getting indications he is avoiding service."

MacLean said the law society won't accept anything less than disbarment.

"Hopefully, it will strengthen the public's trust in the legal profession," she said.

Disappeared for a while

Choukri was appointed deputy minister of justice and deputy attorney general in 2003 by premier Bernard Lord, his former law partner.

In 2010, he was appointed public intervener at the Energy and Utilities Board.

Choukri abandoned his legal practice and briefly disappeared in 2016.

An affidavit filed by the society in its case last year said another lawyer who shared an office with Choukri said he "regularly gambles" and was often given free rooms and meals at Casino Moncton.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Karissa Donkin is a journalist in CBC's Atlantic investigative unit. Do you have a story you want us to investigate? Send your tips to NBInvestigates@CBC.ca.

now