Solicitor reprimanded for negligent pursuit of speculative claims
November 22, 2017
A western suburbs sole practitioner has been reprimanded after the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal found his conduct in a litigation matter displayed gross negligence and ‘a component of moral obliquity’.
The Victorian Legal Services Commissioner told VCAT that Mr Joel Beling appeared before the Federal Magistrates Court, representing his clients who were victims of the Black Saturday bushfires. His clients had initiated proceedings against the ANZ Bank, before retaining Mr Beling to continue their claim.
During the proceedings Mr Beling advocated his client’s speculative allegations against the bank that included dishonesty, fraud, corruption, and falsification and concealment of documents and evidence. The Commissioner told VCAT that Mr Beling could not provide any objective basis for those claims.
VCAT heard that Mr Beling had not properly informed his clients of the risks and benefits of pursuing their claim and had failed to manage their expectations. VCAT also learned that Mr Beling ended his retainer after just four and a half months when his clients fell behind in their fee payments for his approximately $50,000 bill.
VCAT expressed concern about how Mr Beling had handled the case, that he had no previous experience in that area of law and that he failed to seek assistance from counsel or an another legal professional with the relevant expertise.
In its decision, VCAT found that Mr Beling had articulated ‘no coherent chain of reasoning’ to support the claims made against the bank. It found that:
‘…Mr Beling’s propounding of such speculative claims, and his lack of competence in carrying out his retainer is so serious that it constitutes conduct which colleagues of good repute and competency would regard as disgraceful and dishonourable’.
Further, VCAT also found Mr Beling had charged his clients for a considerable amount of time to educate himself about an area law that was unfamiliar to him.
Mr Beling was found guilty of one charge of professional misconduct for failing to exercise due care and competence when acting for his clients, and one charge of unsatisfactory professional conduct for failing to adequately advise his clients, which prevented the clients from giving proper instructions.
VCAT reprimanded Mr Beling on both charges and restricted him to practising only under supervision for a period of three years. Mr Beling was also fined $10,000, ordered to complete an additional 10 professional development units of over a period of two years and ordered to pay the Commissioner’s costs.