Strike-off plan over lawyer’s fake accounts
February 17, 2017
The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal has recommended that a Dandenong sole practitioner be struck-off after finding him guilty of billing clients with fake accounts.
Mr Robert Hession, of Hardys Lawyers, was found to have created a series of fictitious statements itemising costs and disbursements to justify his withdrawal of trust funds before the relevant work had been undertaken for his clients.
The Victorian Legal Services Commissioner brought 13 charges of professional misconduct against Mr Hession after receiving complaints about Mr Hession’s conduct from a former employee of the practice and from one of Mr Hession’s clients.
Mr Hession sought to delay the VCAT hearing by providing a note from his doctor stating that he was seriously ill and was therefore unfit to attend any hearing for the next 12 months. VCAT determined that further detailed evidence of Mr Hession’s medical status was required before such a lengthy adjournment would be granted. Despite VCAT’s request, Mr Hession did not provide any further evidence and failed to appear at the scheduled hearing.
VCAT found Mr Hession guilty of all 13 charges of professional misconduct. It was noted that his lack of participation in the proceedings and failure to provide submissions when given opportunities to do so meant that no mitigating circumstances could be identified.
In reaching its decision, VCAT remarked on the seriousness of his offences and reminded lawyers of the importance of correctly operating trust accounts.
The profession must know and be reminded that the trust account is sacrosanct and must be conducted scrupulously and honestly. Transgressions such as those committed by Mr Hession merit serious sanction both as general deterrence and as a sign to the public that the profession values and protects its standards.
Mr Hession was reprimanded on each of the 13 charges and disqualified from practising for five years. VCAT also ordered Mr Hession to pay the Commissioner’s costs of $18,714 and recommended that the Supreme Court of Victoria remove Mr Hession’s name from the roll of practitioners.
A receiver had previously been appointed by the Supreme Court to wind up Mr Hession’s previous law firm, Hardy’s Lawyers.