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Kirk LaPointe: Mayor Mark Sager’s Law Society saga far from leader-like

It is no small thing that the mayor of West Vancouver has been suspended from practising law for two years, writes columnist Kirk LaPointe
West Vancouver Mayor Mark Sager presides over a budget committee meeting Feb. 26. | Nick Laba / North Shore News

Let’s get this straight: Someone found not fit to be an officer of the court is somehow fit to be our mayor.

West Vancouver Mayor Mark Sager’s plea bargain to secure a two-year suspension last month from the Law Society of British Columbia was long in the making and a long way from leader-like.

Understand, for example, what he did when he learned of the imminent society citation in mid-2022 as he eyed a return to public office. Rather than face adverse publicity, he lawyered up so his name on the citation could be concealed – that in mid-campaign he could hide being cited for his handling of an estate’s finances – so as not to hurt his West Vancouver mayoralty bid.

Then, once elected mayor under this circumstance, when at last the society refused that the case be anonymized, he ragged the puck more than a year and settled on the eve of what would have been an ugly and lengthy society hearing this month.

Lawyers will say few professional challenges are more testing and tempting than those requiring faithfulness to a moral compass in estate management, with its covenant of vulnerable clients and their trust in trustees. They say those who break that bond – as Sager has been cited twice in four years – discredit the profession’s basis of service. To hear it from them, the suspension was terribly serious.

This isn’t how Sager sees it. Of the 2020 citation, he said he was wronged. Of the latest one, he said he was “thrilled” with the settlement, and that what he agreed to in the citation was a nothingburger. Indeed, he claims the episode distracted from his career plan all along to leave law behind to focus on municipal hall.

His assertion that the more significant citation issues were dropped in the agreed-upon report, and that the suspension reflected three minor misconducts, paints a rosier-than-reality picture.

The reality is that Sager shouldn’t have been preparing the will and then being its executor and trustee in the first place without the client first gaining independent approval. It was a conflict of interest.

The reality is that he withdrew about $70,000 in fees without approval from the beneficiaries.

The reality is that four local charities entitled to a portion of the funds weren’t consulted about their bequests for nine years as Sager managed the money and drew down funds from it.

The reality is that he bought clothes in London and stayed at hotels there and in France with estate funds and “mistakenly” billed these personal costs as legitimate travel expenses.

The society report noted Sager’s record-keeping was sloppy, at times undocumented, at times based on quotes and not receipts, and at times illegible and unaligned with actual travel dates. This from the same person who promised in 2022 to bring operational discipline to the mayor’s office.

Now, the story doesn’t end here.

Last week a special prosecutor was appointed following Elections BC’s identification in December of “potential spending irregularities” in Sager’s mayoralty campaign. John Gordon, K.C., will decide if charges ought to be laid following an investigation by Port Moody police. Gordon has an exceptional pedigree as an appellate Crown counsel on the cases of serial killer Robert Pickton, the Surrey Six multiple murders, Kelly Ellard’s drowning of Reena Virk and the John Robert Sharpe child pornography trial, among others.

Sager’s December response had a familiar ring: he was “beyond shocked” at allegations against him and considers them “about as grossly unfair as anything I’ve ever seen.”

It bears reminding Sager holds a vice-grip on a council that last year buried an independent report on allegations of bullying and harassment at municipal hall. Sager professed to be gobsmacked at the very thought he might be an aggressor. Given the seriousness of allegations, common sense presumes we would have seen a vindicating report.

Absent in all of this: contrition, a pledge to do better. And, if it ever crossed his mind, no hint across our mayor’s lips that these episodes undermine the office as to compel his resignation. Heck, he even chairs our police board as nearby police investigate him.

Kirk LaPointe is a West Vancouver journalist and former publisher, editor and vice-president editorial within Glacier Media, parent company of the North Shore News. His column on North Shore issues will run biweekly.