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West Vancouver mayor issued citation by Law Society of B.C. over handling of will

cbc.ca logo cbc.ca 2022-12-07 Justin McElroy

In 2018, Mark Sager was running for mayor of West Vancouver when allegations surfaced that he improperly accepted a $75,000 gift from his godmother while writing her will.

He lost that election by 21 votes and was later fined $20,000 by the Law Society of British Columbia for his actions.

Four years later he ran for mayor again and won — but now he's enmeshed in a similar controversy, following a citation by the Law Society of B.C. for his handling of a friend's estate. 

"There's no findings. There's allegations. And I am completely devastated by the whole thing," said Sager, who informed CBC News of the situation and provided a copy of the law society's citation, which had not been published yet.

According to the law society, "a citation is issued in cases where a lawyer's alleged conduct is serious. The citation lists allegations that will be the subject of a public hearing."

A hearing date has not been set, but Sager says he's eager to prove his innocence.

"I'm really, really keen to get my name cleared and yes, this is incredibly painful," he said.

'We hit it off'

The allegations concern Sager's preparation of a will and oversight of the estate of his deceased friend's sister, Florence "Bunty" Mathias, an elderly woman in England who had no surviving relatives. 

"She asked me to look after her sister after she passed away," Sager said of his friend. "[Mathias] had never married, had no children, outlived all of her friends … and we hit it off."

Over the next decade, Sager said he visited Mathias once or twice a year until she passed away in 2019. 

"I took care of the things that needed to be taken care of … I distributed $800,000 to the charities, so I was really proud of myself and I think I did a really good job," he said. 

"I did exactly what I was asked to do, and for all of my time out of this office and away from my family, I charged the estate nothing. Not a single penny."

However, the citation alleges Sager withdrew up to $40,000 in executor fees and $24,113.25 in management fees prior to receiving signed releases to do so. It also alleges he failed to keep proper paperwork over the trust, and failed to ensure Mathias had received independent legal advice over the arrangement. 

While Sager is a lawyer, he does not specialize in wills. He admitted to a couple of administrative oversights, but said they were corrected.  

"I did this as a friend, and I did ask for advice," he said. 

"I am very proud of how I looked after my friend's sister. And I think the majority of people, I hope, will give me the benefit of the doubt."

Sager showed a photo of him with Mathias, who he visited once or twice a year for a decade before she passed away in 2019. © CBC News Sager showed a photo of him with Mathias, who he visited once or twice a year for a decade before she passed away in 2019.

Support of council

The citation was issued on Sept. 21 and was an item of gossip during October's local elections, in which Sager defeated incumbent mayor Mary-Ann Booth

But it was never confirmed by Sager, who said it would have been improper to do so until the law society publicly issued its citation. 

"It seemed to be rather well known in the community, but I made it very clear to everyone I was not running to be the executor of the District of West Vancouver. I'm running to be the mayor," he said.

Sager told council of the citation after Monday's council meeting, and so far he has received the support of colleagues. 

"I accept his explanation in its entirety, and I support him 100 per cent," Coun. Scott Snider said. 

"Anytime you're sanctioned by a governing body it's not a good thing, but my impression coming away from that meeting was there wasn't any serious infraction," said Coun. Peter Lambur.

"Certainly nothing should hamper his ability to continue as mayor, and I support him in that."

For his part, Sager argues the law society rejected his defence before the citation because it was 30 minutes past their deadline, and is critical of the fact that he hasn't been able to speak with them yet. 

After a second run-in with the body over his handling of wills, he believes he will be vindicated. 

"I don't think this is fair that this will cloud our administration," he said. "I hope it won't. We've got a job to do."

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