A man hired a firm. Then he hired a new solicitor. He had not paid the fees of counsel retained by the first firm, for which the first firm was responsible for paying to the barrister. The first firm handed over its files to the new solicitor upon receiving an undertaking from the second solicitor that he would pay the counsel’s fees. The new solicitor failed to do so. So the first firm (i) sued him in a court for what amounted to specific performance of the undertaking, and (ii) complained about the failure to meet the undertaking to the NSW Law Society (this was back in 2001). Nine months later, the Society charged the new solicitor with professional misconduct.
The hearing of the court case was listed for 17 January 2002. The new solicitor who was the respondent to the disciplinary charge hired a barrister to represent him at the trial of the civil court case. Through that barrister, the new solicitor negotiated a settlement with the first firm a day or two before the trial. The terms of that settlement got the barrister who negotiated it into trouble: in Council of the New South Wales Bar Association v DKLR  NSWADT 201, NSW’s equivalent of VCAT’s Legal Practice List held the barrister guilty of unsatisfactory professional conduct. The settlement purported to settle not only the civil action, but also to dispose at the same time of the complaint. Continue reading “Danger lurks in settling a disciplinary complaint against a lawyer”
In Legal Services Commissioner v. RDS  VCAT 1835, a ‘leading, senior and respected member of the profession’ defrauded both his client and the revenue of three quarters of a million dollars. He had been sentenced to 3 years’ imprisonment, suspended for 3 years, having pleaded guilty in the criminal court. He cooperated with the authorities, voluntarily handed in his practising certificate, pleaded guilty to misconduct at common law in the charge brought in VCAT by the Legal Services Commissioner, and conceded through his counsel that a substantial period of suspension from practice was warranted. He paid the revenue the money after he was caught. His daughter was ill at the time of the offence. Apparently he has given a lot of money to charity. Much was made of this. Perhaps too much; the sentencing remarks as hagiography form of literature sometimes makes me uneasy. Maybe society’s denunciation of this crime took place in the sentencing remarks of the judge in the criminal case, but there was little by way of denunciation in these reasons. Anyway, the solicitor’s practising certificate was suspended until mid-2013, justified by general deterrence since the solicitor was in Israel, contemplating relocation there and not intending to practise again. A Full Tribunal with Judge Bowman presiding said at :
‘Whether or not [the solicitor] is likely to offend again, and we would be of the view that he is highly unlikely so to do, principles of general deterrence must be borne in mind. There is also the question of the damage that is done to the standing and reputation of the legal profession in the eyes of the public if someone who could be described as a leading, senior and experienced member of the profession engages in fraudulent activity of this kind.’
It seems this was a plea, that there was no contest and full cooperation. The hearing could not have gone longer than an hour or two. It is interesting then that the Commissioner was awarded costs of almost $6,000.
Guss v Law Institute of Victoria Ltd  VSCA 88 (Maxwell P gave the lead judgment, Callaway and Chernov JJA agreeing)
A solicitor’s right to practice was suspended for three years and he was ordered to pay costs of $31,500 for failing to comply with the obligation of ongoing discovery in relation to what was prima facie a privileged copy of a document produced by an expert witness a few days before trial which, had the existence of the copy document been disclosed to the other side, might have put the other side onto a train of enquiry which might have led to relevant evidence. Continue reading “3 years’ holiday for not making ongoing discovery”