Reprimand for costs lawyer for failing to comply with multiple Court orders - Victorian Legal Services Board + Commissioner

Reprimand for costs lawyer for failing to comply with multiple Court orders

February 22, 2017

The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal has reprimanded both a solicitor and his costs lawyer after finding the costs lawyer failed to serve documents before a Court-ordered deadline.

In a unique decision, VCAT reprimanded solicitor Mr Nelson Pinto, legal director of the former incorporated legal practice Pinto Law, and his appointed costs lawyer, Mr Angus Fulton of the Melbourne costs consultancy Fulton Legal, after finding Mr Fulton had failed to complete the work he was engaged to do.

The Victorian Legal Services Commissioner told VCAT that in mid-2012 Pinto Law was summonsed for taxation before the Costs Court over two bills prepared for a former client. Mr Pinto engaged Mr Fulton as a costs lawyer to represent Pinto Law and prepare the Court-ordered bills of cost for the two complex matters.

Between August 2012 and June 2013, the Costs Court made five successive orders for Pinto Law to file and serve the required bills of costs. On each occasion Mr Fulton failed to prepare and lodge the bills by the due dates.

The Commissioner told VCAT that little or no work had been carried out to meet the Court orders by their deadlines, despite Mr Fulton giving assurances to the Court, Mr Pinto and the opposing side that the work was underway and well advanced.

By mid-2013 the Costs Court referred the matter to the Supreme Court, which ordered Pinto Law file and serve the bills of cost within 10 days. Mr Pinto filed one of the bills ordered, which ultimately was not prepared by Mr Fulton. The other bill had still not been completed. The Supreme Court again made an order to have the outstanding bill prepared and served with a specific deadline of 4:00 pm on 2 September 2013.

Mr Fulton served the outstanding bill on the due date, however it was served at4:24 pm; after the deadline had passed. On serving the document, Mr Fulton suggested to the receptionist that she should say that the bill was received at 3:59.

Mr Pinto pleaded guilty to one charge of unsatisfactory professional conduct for his law practice’s failure to comply with Court orders.

Mr Fulton pleaded guilty to one charge of professional misconduct for his failure to complete work despite Court orders and his repeated statements to the Court; a second charge of professional misconduct for failing to correspond with the Commissioner; and one charge of unsatisfactory professional conduct for the statement he made to the receptionist.

In considering its penalty, VCAT acknowledged Mr Pinto’s work history and his cooperation with the Commissioner. It also acknowledged the serious mental health conditions which Mr Fulton had been dealing with at the time of the offending.

VCAT reprimanded Mr Pinto and accepted his undertaking that he would not work as a principal of a law practice for three years. VCAT ordered Mr Pinto not be granted a principal practising certificate until 1 July 2019, and ordered that he pay the Commissioner’s costs of $3,500.

VCAT also reprimanded Mr Fulton on each of the three charges and fined him a total of $5,000. Further, Mr Fulton was ordered to provide a psychiatric report on his fitness to practice when applying for any future practising certificate for the next five years.  Mr Fulton was also ordered to pay the Commissioner’s costs of $5,350.

For further information download the VCAT decision.