Regulator sues lawyer who interfered with Board-appointed Manager
January 6, 2017
A former Northcote solicitor who obstructed a Manager appointed to his law practice has lost a civil penalty action brought against him by the Victorian Legal Services Board.
The solicitor* was found by the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court to have obstructed the Manager by failing or refusing to provide information required by law.
The Court heard that the Board appointed a Manager to the solicitor’s practice in October 2015 over concerns about the solicitor’s handling of trust money and trust property. The Manager made four directions to the solicitor which required him to provide records and information needed to reconstruct the practice’s trust account, however the solicitor failed or refused to comply with those directions.
The Board subsequently applied to the Supreme Court for the appointment of a Receiver to wind up the practice, and commenced civil proceedings against the solicitor in the Magistrates’ Court.
The Board told the Court that the solicitor had signed consent orders admitting to the facts alleged in the Board’s claim and had agreed to a penalty, however an hour before the hearing was to commence, he rescinded his consent via email. He did not appear before the Court.
The Court found that despite his repeated assurances that he would cooperate with the Manager, the solicitor failed or refused to do so, thereby obstructing the Manager from executing his functions quickly in the interests of the clients. The Court further observed that the solicitor’s conduct unnecessarily added to the cost and complexity to the Manager’s tasks.
The solicitor was ordered to pay $24,267, plus the Board’s costs.
The decision affirms the importance of practitioners cooperating with external interveners, where appointed, to protect the interests of clients and the reputation of the legal profession.
*Please note, this post has been anonymised as the practitioner involved had a similar name and business name as another, unrelated Melbourne-based practitioner.