NSW suspends corrupt lawyer after raid on home

An ICAC enquiry resulted in a finding that a senior lawyer at NSW Maritime was corrupt following Operation Vargus: their report is here. That agency oversees marine safety and strategy in all things to do with the sea for the State Government.  Tonette Kelly was moonlighting, working a 100 client, $120,000 a year private conveyancing business while employed full-time. She procured NSW Maritime to purchase professional liability insurance for her, understated her income in her insurance application (so as to lower the premium), engaged other employees of the legal department for reward on her conveyancing files, lied about her activities, and forged a document in her cover up.  She had in fact sought permission from her employer to do about 1 hour’s work a week during work hours, but her moonlighting expanded beyond her employer’s understanding.  Now the NSW Legal Services Commissioner has suspended her practising certificate on the basis of the ICAC findings, and ICAC has suggested the possibility of criminal prosecution for misconduct in public office. NSW Maritime has changed its mind about paying for her defence.

This is tough stuff; damning evidence against Ms Kelly — 4,568 faxes sent from her employer’s fax machine — were seized in a raid on her home.  I have heard of nothing like it by Legal Services Commissioners, and have my doubts about whether, in Victoria, such a matter would be referred to the police so as to allow them to carry out a similar raid.  This involved government corruption, the eradication of which is undoubtedly an important end, especially in NSW, but the social ills generated by lawyers behaving badly, especially in litigation, must be right up there in terms of societal undesirability, worthy too of vigorous investigation. In fact, this is a rare instance of the stipes going up against the big end of town.  The involvement of whistleblowers may explain the curiosity.

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