6 months jail for lawyer thief ‘remarkably merciful’

Update, 8 May 2009: The Westralians have been listening to Justice of Appeal Nettle.  Someone over there has thrown a 41 year old Margaret River solicitor into the slammer for almost 8, minimum of nearly 5.  He stole almost $900,000 from an elderly man who lived alone on a farm.

Original post: A solicitor was convicted of forgery and given an enforced break from practice of a year.  Years later, he stole $100,000 in his trust account from a client.  He paid debts and took his family on holidays to Greece and Bali.  He confessed as soon as a routine audit of his trust account revealed a discrepancy. He handed in his practising certificate to the Legal Services Board’s delegate, and a receiver was appointed to his practice which was sold.  It sounds like the receiver might have been a bit sloppy, because the solicitor remained a signatory to a client account.

A week after being interviewed about the theft of $100,000, (‘amazingly’, as the trial judge put it) he stole another $43,000 from another client which he used to stave off bankruptcy at the suit of the Tax Man.  When interviewed about that theft, he lied to the police, asserting that he had the client’s permission to withdraw the money.

The trial judge locked the solicitor up for 6 months and suspended an additional year of imprisonment.  The DPP appealed against what it said was the manifestly inadequate sentence.  Justice of Appeal Nettle, who warned last year on the need for condign punishment to express society’s special  revulsion at lawyers’ theft from their trust accounts, was again party to a judgment in the matter of DPP v George B [2009] VSCA 29 making the same point, and would have increased the sentence on appeal but for certain factors peculiar to this offender: Continue reading “6 months jail for lawyer thief ‘remarkably merciful’”

Nettle JA on sentencing thieving lawyers

R v Maurice B [2008] VSC 254 records the sentencing remarks of Nettle JA apparently sitting in the trial division following a guilty plea by a solicitor who stole a quarter of a million dollars. The solicitor argued the state of his mind was relevant in two ways. First, he said his impaired mental functioning short of psychiatric illness at the time of the offending diminished his moral culpability. Secondly, what appears to have degenerated into a psychiatric illness (depression, anxiety disorder, panic attacks requiring anti-depressants) was a relevant consideration in determining an appropriate sentence.

Based on the psychiatric evidence, Justice of Appeal Nettle gave little truck indeed to the first claim, but did take the mental state of the solicitor by the time he had been through the Legal Profession Tribunal and the criminal charges into account in fashioning an appropriate sentence. In fact, along with the solicitor’s age (67) his mental condition at the time of sentencing was the thing which kept him out of the clink. His Honour conducted a survey of a number of Victorian cases involving thieving solicitors who received suspended sentences of imprisonment and remarked:

‘I doubt that the sentences imposed in at least some of those cases gave due weight to the overriding importance of general deterrence in matters of this kind. For, even allowing that a suspended sentence is a sentence of imprisonment for all purposes, it is manifestly less burdensome than an immediate term of imprisonment. It is also to be remembered that the maximum sentence for the offence of having a deficiency in a trust account has more than doubled since the Legal Professional Practice Act 1958 was first replaced by the Legal Practice Act 1996, from seven years to 15 years’ imprisonment. These days, the idea of a fully suspended sentence in a case of solicitor defalcation will seldom sit easily with the imperative that solicitors who act in fraudulent breach of trust account obligations “must … inevitably suffer severe punishment”.’

The whole of the relevant passage is: Continue reading “Nettle JA on sentencing thieving lawyers”

Da Fink reckons the Bureau should act with the fairness of Crown prosecutors

In Australian Securities and Investments Commission v Mining Projects Group Limited [2007] FCA 1620, Justice Ray Finkelstein, aka da Fink, sowed a seed for future courts to take up and declare that regulatory authorities bringing civil penalty proceedings should have the same duties as criminal prosecutors. Having cited the authority to say that they do not, his Honour said:

’35 A lay person might be forgiven for thinking that in the present context the distinction between civil and criminal proceedings is somewhat artificial and that in both kinds of proceedings the regulatory authority or prosecutor (as the case may be) is under a duty to ensure that the decider of facts (judge or jury) is best placed to arrive at the proper and just result.’

Then, with the judicial equivalent of biting sarcasm:

‘Perhaps the reason courts have rejected this approach is that in a criminal proceeding a conviction may result in imprisonment whereas in a civil penalty proceeding the worst that can happen is that the defendant’s career is ruined or his life is wrecked.’

Continue reading “Da Fink reckons the Bureau should act with the fairness of Crown prosecutors”

Lawyers and the criminal law

Reproduced below is a blog post about ‘bill padding’ from the US site, Legal Blog Watch. That is where lawyers say work took them longer than it really did, and so charge commensurately more, or even make up the fact that they did work, and charge for it. Sometimes I read articles like this and wonder whether lawyers don’t think they live in a different world where, if they commit crimes, what will happen to them is that they will be dealt with by professional discipline. They think that, or course, because it’s more or less true, unless you get caught stealing from your trust account.  But the criminality of time sheet crime should not be allowed to be buried under anodyne euphemisms. ‘Bill padding’ sounds kind of cute, a necessary evil. It is a kind of newspeak. Time to do away with it. Let’s call it ‘rapacity fraud’.  It is tolerated by the profession in this sense.  There are generalised allegations of widespread bill padding.  Talk privately to costs consultants and they will tell you all about it.   But I have never heard of a firm which has even basic anti-fraud procedures to detect the practice.

My point kind of makes itself when the author says ‘allegations of bill padding … drew … strong criticism about the practice from legal ethics experts’.  Experts say fraud is bad?  Well shit Sherlock!  The 9th commandment does kind of feature relatively prominently in most systems of law.  We’re going to have the case one day when someone actually subpoenas a firm’s electronic billing system and its metadata, and diaries, analyses when the billing entries were made, and cross-examines lawyers on how they could have billed 180 units in a day and still made it to the client function at 6 p.m., or why, having billed relatively consistently every day, they would suddenly remember on the 30th of the month some comparatively vaguely described units they had forgotten to record mid-month, or why given that they had used a precedent for similar documents three times previously in the same month, they decided to draft the document from scratch, only to end up with — you guessed it — the same document as the precedent.  Now, that article: Continue reading “Lawyers and the criminal law”

The right to silence in disciplinary and striking off hearings

I have previously posted about the QC who took his computer into work at the DPP only to lose his career when the tech found child pornography on it. It was a bizarre story, and of course there was a twist which has become clear from the disciplinary decision in Council of the NSW Bar Association v PJPP [2008] NSWCA 135: the QC thought he had the porn sequestered on a removable hard drive (the F drive), which he removed before taking it into work, but some had crept out into the rest of the computer. This post looks at the discussion of what inferences, if any, it was proper to draw from the QC’s exercise of the right to silence at the investigation stage, and from his failure to give evidence at his disciplinary hearing. Continue reading “The right to silence in disciplinary and striking off hearings”

Zarah wins

Ms Garde-Wilson’s back in business. In fact she never went out of business, since following the non-renewal of her practising certificate, she held a deemed practising certificate pursuant to the Legal Profession Act, 2004, s. 2.4.5(3) pending her VCAT merits review application. The assertion that she had ceased to be a fit and proper person seems fundamentally to have been about her contempt of the Supreme Court of Victoria in refusing to answer questions on oath, and certain criminal charges which were pending against her. The criminal charges went away, and the Board obviously subsequently formed the view that the unusual circumstances of the contempt conviction were not such as to demonstrate her unfitness to engage in legal practice, and so gave her her practising certificate back. These things are determined at the date of a decision, and so the fact that the Board determined now that Ms Garde-Wilson was a fit and proper person does not necessarily suggest that its decision back then was wrong.

I suspect that Justice Bell commencing his decision in Garde-Wilson v Legal Services Board [2007] VSC 225:

‘The plaintiff, a young and intelligent solicitor, was working hard in a firm specialising in criminal law,’

must not have harmed her cause. So too Justice Harper’s reasons for not imposing any sentence on her upon finding her guilty of contempt of court, which began:

‘Zarah Garde-Wilson, you are a solicitor who, on the evidence available to me, is intelligent, hard working and determined to represent your clients to the best of your ability. These are valuable attributes in any legal practitioner. Another such attribute is that combination of learning, technical legal skills and common sense which, appropriately mixed, results in sound judgment. None of us get the combination exactly right all the time.’ (R v Garde-Wilson [2005] VSC 452)

The Age article alerted me to a Zarah decision I had missed, about the detail of which I will fill you in on soon. Here it is: Garde-Wilson v Legal Services Board [2008] VSCA 43. The Court of Appeal, led by Justice of Appeal Dodds-Streeton, overturned Justice Bell’s decision mentioned above, which had dismissed Ms Garde-Wilson’s application for judicial review of the Board’s decision to suspend her practising certificate. Justice Bell had said that Ms Garde-Wilson had a perfectly adequate alternative remedy in the merits review option in VCAT, and that is a good reason why judicial review should not be availed of. Not so, said the Court of Appeal.

When will a professional discipline proceeding be stayed pending overlapping criminal charges?

Post updated 7 April 2013: See now ML v Australian Securities and Investments Commission [2013] NSWSC 283 (application to disbar liquidator not stayed pending related criminal proceedings which were ‘on the cards’: suggested that a secrecy regime could be imposed in respect of the disciplinary proceedings so as to protect the liquidator in the criminal proceedings).

Post updated 1 March 2013: See also Re AWB Limited [2008] VSC 473.

Original post: Dedicated readers will already have been following the saga of the misconduct prosecution of Kylie Minogue’s one-time lawyer. Casual readers can lap it all up here. Deputy President Dwyer’s reasons for refusing to stay the disciplinary proceedings have hit the internet: Legal Services Commissioner v MB [2008] VCAT 1341. For some reason, the lawyer adduced into evidence a letter from the Australian Crime Commission which said that there was no overlap between the subject matter of the disciplinary charges and the subject matter of the Australian Crime Commission’s investigation, ‘pulling the rug’, as Deputy President Dwyer put it, from the lawyer’s own case. Apart from some newspaper articles suggesting that up to 50 people might be prosecuted as a result of ‘Project Wickenby’, there was not a lot of evidence that the solicitor was going to be prosecuted imminently or otherwise. So it is not an especially interesting decision, legally. It is helpful to have a VCAT decision which rehearses the authorities on the question of stays pending criminal proceedings in their application to disciplinary proceedings, though. Continue reading “When will a professional discipline proceeding be stayed pending overlapping criminal charges?”

Law Institute seeks 50 year ban for 62 year old solicitor

In Law Institute of Victoria v DSS [2008] VCAT 1179, the Institute sought in a misconduct prosecution an order that the solicitor not be allowed to handle trust monies for 50 years. Vice President Judge Ross described the submission as ‘somewhat excessive’.

The solicitor had stolen $75,000 from his clients and out of his trust account, lied to a trust account inspector, removed evidence so as to hinder his investigation, and involved a client in misleading the inspector by dictating a letter full of lies and having her sign it and send it to the inspector with a view to perverting the course of justice. These were ‘manifestly serious’ instances of misconduct. In a criminal prosecution, Justice Lasry had sentenced the solicitor to 18 months’ imprisonment, wholly suspended. The solicitor was suffering from a mental illness at the time when he committed the offences. A family law client had been murdered by her husband at the County Court more or less in the solicitor’s presence and he had not coped well. There was a psychiatrist’s report. The solicitor was remorseful and his remediation was well advanced. He had paid back all the stolen monies. He was working in a business which provided services to body corporates, and his employer was supportive. On his return to practice, he intended to confine himself to body corporate law.

In these circumstances, the Institute contended that an appropriate disposition for the disciplinary charges arising out of the same facts as the criminal charges was: Continue reading “Law Institute seeks 50 year ban for 62 year old solicitor”

Kylie’s one-time lawyer before VCAT’s Legal Practice List

Update, 18 July 2008: Make that a $200,000, not $20,000, loan from rock impressario Michael Gudinski. I like the way he gave evidence to VCAT’s Legal Practice List by mobile phone from a US Billy Joel concert. Leonie Wood’s report for The Age is here.

Update, 15 July 2008: Apparently the Law Institute’s trust account inspector Ron Hall thumped the table while under cross-examination by the lawyer’s counsel. What drama! The Age‘s report is here. Mr Hall’s evidence provides a fascinating insight into the way trust account inspectors employed by the Law Institute think. Mr Hall said at one stage, he thought ‘right, I have enough here to put a practitioner up for alleged misconduct or unsatisfactory conduct’. Inspectors hold statutory office as individuals, and their job is to investigate compliance with the trust account regime, and to report their results to the Legal Services Board. The Legal Services Commissioner is charged with bringing prosecutions for misconduct or unsatisfactory conduct. Many trust account inspectors are employees of the Law Institute, and the Board delegates its functions in relation to trust accounts to the Institute. The Commissioner outsources the investigation of allegations of unsatisfactory conduct and misconduct to the Institute too. This is under the new simpler, more transparent, new and improved no-self-regulation-here! regime set up at such expense of paper and ink by the Legal Profession Act, 2004. According to The Age:

‘Mr Hall was asked if, during his investigation, he acted “at the express behest of the Australian Crime Commission”. He first said “yes”, adding he had been subpoenaed by the ACC. Asked again by VCAT deputy president Mark Dwyer, Mr Hall said the LIV investigation was his own work. But then he revealed that ACC officers gave him one of their documents.’

Update, 12 July 2008: The lawyer failed in his bid to have the Supreme Court prevent the Legal Profession Tribunal continuing to hear the disciplinary charges against him. And The Age reports on one of the transactions under scrutiny, a loan by Michael Gudinski to his then lawyer, of $20,000, said by the Legal Services Commissioner to be inadequately documented, and a breach of professional standards.Original post: The lawyer towards the centre of the regulators’ tax probe Project Wickenby, once Kylie Minogue’s and other celebrities’ lawyer, is again in the news as his VCAT Legal Practice List prosecution continues in his absence overseas. He has appealed Deputy President Dwyer’s refusal to adjourn the disciplinary hearing on the basis it would prejudice the hearing of what the solicitor claims are imminent criminal charges and the appeal will be heard in the Supreme Court on Friday morning. His barrister says he has no instructions in relation to the disciplinary matters. The Commissioner alleges the solicitor provided no cooperation with the investigation. I am not aware of Deputy President Dwyer sitting in the Legal Practice List before. He was the head of Freehills’s Environment and Planning Group and was appointed DP on 1 April 2007.

As far as I can see from Austlii, all of his decisions written reasons for which have been published on Austlii have involved local councils and I infer that they have all been planning matters. There is one exception: a real property list matter. A web profile of Mr Dwyer before his appointment says: Continue reading “Kylie’s one-time lawyer before VCAT’s Legal Practice List”

From the newspapers

Friday is definitely law news day. The Australian and the Australian Financial Review both have several pages of law news of a Friday. I might try to bring to the attention of you readers articles of interest from both on a relatively regular basis.

First though, some things from not-Friday. ABC Radio National’s The Law Report has the founder of Crimassist (which I mentioned here) tête-à-tête with the CEO of the Law Institute of Victoria. And The Age reported this week on a VCAT Legal Practice List case where a legal regulator is again alleged to have put illegally obtained evidence to use against a lawyer, this time the lawyer towards the centre of the tax fraud investigation, Project Wickenby. His bid to stay his disciplinary hearing pending what he said were imminent criminal charges failed, and the disciplinary hearing will proceed on Tuesday.

The Times has an article on a House of Lords decision which has put an end to what sounds like a relatively undesirable system in Old Blighty of allowing prosecutors to apply ex parte for orders anonymising witnesses in fear of their life if they testify. Better to preserve the common law rule that a defendant is entitled to confront his accusers than to risk some guilty folk walking free for want of evidence against them.  And the English are reviewing their system of no-win no-pay retainers. But unlike in Victoria, where the maximum success fee is 25% of the ‘normal’ fee (whatever that is), in England, a solicitor whose client succeeds can double their ‘normal fee’.

Le Oz has an article on a 34 year old Perth lawyer convicted of attempting to pervert the course of justice by convincing a witness not to give evidence against her de facto, who stood charged with conspiracy to commit a violent crime. The Western Australian Legal Practitioners Complaints Committee was meeting yesterday to consider her future as a lawyer. The comparison with that other case involving a 30 something female criminal lawyer and her late gangster de facto may be interesting. It also reports that the inter-state argy-bargy on a uniform national electronic conveyancing system in which Victoria has featured prominently has been resolved. A good thing too: this boring subject was clogging the Legal Affairs pages for too long. Meanwhile, the Conveyancers Act, 2006 (Vic.) came into operation on 1 July 2008. It repeals the bit in the Legal Profession Act, 2004 about conveyancers.

Amazingly, The Fin has a man with a barrister’s wig on its front page with the caption ‘Many barristers have grown frustrated with outdated practices’ as a hook to an article about the not especially newsworthy opening up of a new 18 room barristers chambers. It’s privately run you see, unlike the chambers owned by the Victorian Bar where 63 per cent of Victoria’s barristers are accommodated. I went and checked out Dawson Chambers today. They’re pretty flash, and house several of my mates, but sport views of the next door building. They’re set up by Stephen O’Bryan SC and David Klempfner. Stephen’s brother Norman O’Bryan SC is my landlord at Melbourne Chambers.

The Fin also reports on a NSW law which will make it a criminal offence for causing ‘annoyance or inconvenience’ to participants in World Youth Day. I wonder whether there is a Papal immunity which will immunise his Holiness from prosecution for the inconvenience of the sinfulness of contraception.

Lawyer to gangland figures not guilty of alleged crimes

The Crown entered a nolle prosequi on Tuesday on the charges of giving false evidence against Melbourne’s best known female criminal lawyer, Z G-W. In other words, they dropped the charges before trial for want of a reasonable prospect of conviction. The key witness was unable to remember crucial evidence which the Crown obviously figured he would remember. The most interesting fact to emerge from this latest development in the saga is that one of the bits of allegedly false evidence was that spirits had told the solicitor the details of Lewis Caine’s murder. She said that spirits were talking to her. It will be interesting to see what the Legal Practice Board and VCAT make of all this. The solicitor’s VCAT proceeding is a merits review under the VCAT Act, 1998 of the Board’s decision not to renew the solicitor’s practising certificate. Parties to such proceedings may not refuse to answer questions on the basis of the privilege against self-incrimination: ss. 80(3), 105 of the VCAT Act, 1998 which are reproduced below.

I wonder whether anything would stop the Board from calling the solicitor as its own witness and just asking her whether she lied on oath, or, if she were to give evidence, cross-examining her about this. If she did, she would presumably be obliged to say so honestly, though her answers could not be used to prosecute her again, only to inform VCAT in its decision about whether she is a fit and proper person to hold a practising certifiate. In ascertaining whether a person is of good fame and character, or otherwise a fit and proper person to hold a practising certificate, the stipes are entitled to take into account not only criminal convictions but criminal charges, even where the charge resulted in an acquittal: Frugtniet v Board of Examiners [2002] VSC 140, a decision of Justice Pagone. Continue reading “Lawyer to gangland figures not guilty of alleged crimes”

Child porn accused gets ticket back on strict conditions

Almost 3 months ago, a 71 year old sole practitioner who has practiced for 28 years was charged with knowingly possessing child pornography and knowingly transmitting an image of a child having sex. He has not admitted the charges which remain to be tried. He is of course presumed innocent. Nevertheless, the Legal Services Board (through its delegate the Law Institute of Victoria) peremptorily suspended his practising certificate without notice. The Board’s reasons do not appear clearly from VCAT’s decision. It would be interesting to know why the fact of a charge sufficed to satisfy the Board that the solicitor’s right to practise law should be terminated immediately and without hearing him on the question. The solicitor applied to VCAT for a de novo review of the decision. Senior Member Howell’s decision is FM v Law Institute of Victoria Ltd [2008] VCAT 692. The solicitor has 30 current files and a quarter of a million dollars in his trust account. He desires to retire on 1 July, and said that if he could have his practising certificate back he would undertake not to take on any new matters, and to wind up his affairs by then. In the face of the Board’s vehement opposition, VCAT said he could have his practising certificate back. Continue reading “Child porn accused gets ticket back on strict conditions”

Megafirm partner who stole to make budget gets his ticket back after long holiday

The latest application for review of a decision of the Legal Services Board decision not to grant a practising certificate was in the matter of DAP v Law Institute of Victoria [2008] VCAT 688. The 57 year old solicitor and former Melbourne Cricket Club Committee member was a property lawyer at one of Melbourne’s megafirms for about 27 years, many of them as a partner. Over the last nine of those years, he committed various acts of professional misconduct associated with the firm’s trust account. Of course the megafirm was not always a megafirm. The solicitor was for most of his career in one of the firms swallowed up into the megafirm. Justice Betty King, in the solicitor’s criminal prosecution said:

‘6. The [offences] are at the lowest end of the scale of offences of this nature. The total involved was just over $9,000 and it was not money that at any stage was ever to be for your own spending. The money was directed into meeting the targets set by your firm for your department. All firms have become hard-headed businesses, with targets and budgets and six minute units which, I add, is, in my view, driving young lawyers out of the profession at a very rapid rate. You, unfortunately, had commenced practice when it was a profession and unlike its current incarnation. It would, of course, have been preferable to have approached your other partners and indicated that it was not possible to meet the budget that had been set for you and suffered the consequences of not meeting that budget. Instead, you chose this course of conduct, the one of stealing money from those accounts. That has resulted in far worse consequences for you, your wife, your children and the community that you had previously served so well. Continue reading “Megafirm partner who stole to make budget gets his ticket back after long holiday”

Once you’ve done your time, prior misconduct not an indicator of fitness to practise

In JLL v Law Institute of Victoria Limited [2008] VCAT 456, a Box Hill solicitor who had paid only $5,000 of the $55,000 odd he owed under orders of the Legal Profession Tribunal was given a practising certificate by VCAT, overturning a decision of the Law Institute not to give him one on the basis that he was not a fit and proper person. Judge Bowman said the Institute had been wrong to rely on past misconduct which had already been considered by the Legal Profession Tribunal, and in respect of which the solicitor should be deemed to have ‘done his time’, so long as he entered into a repayment plan. Continue reading “Once you’ve done your time, prior misconduct not an indicator of fitness to practise”

Rise of the celebrity QC and of Australian lawyer rankings

Update, 7 June 2008: The Age‘s weekend magazine had a front cover profile of Dave Hughes, and the same day the June Australian Financial Review Magazine had a front cover profile of Tom Hughes. Diverse and powerful as Tom’s family is, I do not think it counts Dave as a member. This is the most fawning, glossy QC portrait in the series: no fewer than 7 photos, two full-pagers.   The hagiographical profile reminded me that Tom is art critic Robert Hughes’s brother.  Before court, he works Jesuitically for four hours every day on the 62nd floor of the MLC Tower, leaving for work at 4.55 a.m.  He has been a barrister for almost 60 years. These days, his junior is often his son Tom Hughes.  His daughter Lucy is one-time mayor of Sydney and happens to be married to Malcolm Turnbull.  France gave him a legion of honour for his service in World War II.  He was mates with Sir Owen Dixon, Sir Frank Packer, and Sir John Gorton. He argued in the Privy Council.  He was for 16 months Attorney-General in Gorton’s government: John Howard was his campaign manager when he got elected.  He enthused mightily about the American intervention in Vietnam. What is most interesting however, is that this is not the first front page profile Hughes has suffered:

‘In early 1978, the now-defunct Bulletin magazine, owned by Kerry Packer’s Australian Consolidate Press, splashed across its cover a large photo of Tom Hughes, with a story headlined “From Silk to Riches — Portrait of a $1,000 a day QC”.  Soon afer the article appeared, its author, Malcolm Turnbull, sent a bouquet of roses around to Tom Hughes’s chambers for his daughter, Lucy, then aged 19, who had just completed first-year law.  Turnbull married Lucy Hughes two years later.’

Update, 23 April 2008: Now The Times has published its list of the 100 most powerful English lawyers. Sir Igor Judge is right up there in the top ten.

Original post: It’s not just Peter Faris, with his blog, his until-recently radio show, his comments about the Fijian judiciary in the Fiji Times, and repeated Age profiles. Has anyone else noticed the rise of the celebrity QC profile? The glossy Melbourne Magazine, published monthly by The Age, had a profile of Julian Burnside QC last year. Like Geoffrey Robertson QC (remember his hypotheticals?), Mr Burnside writes and his profile was part of the publishing cycle, tied in with his new book. But Colin Lovitt QC — best known for representing Jaidyn Leskie’s babysitter, Greg Domaszewicz — profiled in Royal Auto? (Turns out from the profile he did the whole thing pro bono.) And, Alan Myers QC, of all people, the very exemplar of the traditional Bar, reminiscing about his first tax case in The Australian Financial Review? Is it a trend I see?

Mr Myers’ profile was part of another new phenomenon, lawyer ranking blinged up to the next level, a great big US-inspired lift-out supplement to the AFR’s Legal Affairs pages. Continue reading “Rise of the celebrity QC and of Australian lawyer rankings”

I have only respect and honour for your Honour

Schadenfreude being a German word, I suppose this must be an example of überschadenfreude. To watch this man digging his own grave made my guts clench up with distress. An advocate turns up more than an hour late to run a criminal trial in a Las Vegas court for a man facing a life sentence. Claiming to be ‘stone cold sober’ things don’t go well, and he implores a judge not to breath test him in court, with the invocation ‘I have only respect and honour for your Honour’. The charm doesn’t work. It is not a happy ending.

Bad bad dermatologist

Update, 24 June 2008: the Herald Sun today revealed the doctor’s attempt to sell his Toorak home until the sale was restrained by police, and that Slater & Gordon are suing the Medical Board for damages on behalf of the doctor’s victims.  Should be interesting.  People will be suing the Law Institute next for not rubbing out with sufficient vigor dodgy solicitors who then go on to rip them off.

The dermatologist does not necessarily spring to mind as the specialist with the opportunity to rape patients after getting them starkers and photographing them without their consent with his mobile phone, while ‘panting’ with excitement. This one managed it, and sexually assaulted or digitally raped his patients, 14 of them. He survived 2 complaints to the Medical Board by deliberately deceiving it, but continued to offend. The Board has apologised to his victims, is reviewing other cases, and has revealed that the relationship between the police and the Board broke down so badly that the police turned up with a search warrant. There are suggestions of mental health issues by his relatives. He hired a female QC to defend him against the female prosecutrix, and his own counsel described him to the court as a nerd: Continue reading “Bad bad dermatologist”

Anyone got a bent lawyer story to top this one?

The Times reports:

‘Naveen Sagar laundered drug money, orchestrated false defences and supplied bogus witnesses to help major criminals to evade justice. He was involved directly in fraud and burglary and was suspected of trying to derail an Old Bailey murder case after police found a picture of the trial jury on his mobile phone.

Sagar flaunted the proceeds of his corruption – wearing designer suits, driving a Porsche 911 and buying a portfolio of properties – until Ahmed Osman Hersi, a Somali-born drug dealer, gave evidence against his former solicitor and other criminal associates in an attempt to earn a lighter sentence for himself.’

Two new cases from NSW

Here’s a 37,000 word long judgment in a professional negligence case against a solicitor which began in early 2000: Rebenta Pty Ltd v Wise [2007] NSWSC 1332. It does not discuss many issues of law. The reason one might want to look at it is that it is one of those rare cases where a dispute about whether there was one ongoing retainer or several more discrete retainers of a solicitor. The solicitor won after a four and a half week trial.

In The Prothonotary of the Supreme Court of New South Wales v. Sukkar [2007] NSWCA 341, the NSW Court of Appeal engaged in a surprising degree of soul searching before deciding to strike an ecstasy importer cum solicitor off the roll of practitioners. The fact that he gave false evidence in his trial did not assist him. The decision is an interesting illustration of the distinction between a finding of want of good fame and character and a finding of professional misconduct where the conduct in question is unconnected with legal practice. The Court of Appeal’s decision in the criminal appeal is reported at Regina v Sukkar [2005] NSWCCA 54. The importation of 124 kilograms of ecstasy earnt the solicitor 14 years in jail. In relation to the appropriateness of a finding of misconduct where the conduct in question is unconnected with legal practice, Basten J said in separate reasons from the majority: Continue reading “Two new cases from NSW”