Solicitor reprimanded for contempt of Court
February 26, 2018
A solicitor has been reprimanded by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal after being found guilty of contempt of Court.
The Victorian Legal Services Commissioner told VCAT that in 2016 South Yarra solicitor, Mr Michael Witt, had sent an email that the Supreme Court of Victoria had found was likely to be prejudicial to the administration of justice.
The Commissioner told VCAT that in 2009 Mr Witt had sent an email to his client and some members of the client’s family referring to orders made by His Honour, Justice Kyrou of the Supreme Court of Victoria. Those orders restrained Mr Witt’s client and two of his sons, both of whom lived overseas, from taking steps to transfer the ownership of particular properties.
VCAT heard that Mr Witt’s email explained that the Court order could be circumvented and the properties transferred by his client’s sons, if the sons did not know the orders had been made. Mr Witt wrote:
“In the new case the Judge made orders against [the sons] restraining them from trying to progress the transfers…I have deliberately left [the sons] off this email as I do not want it to be able to be said that they had any notice or knowledge of the orders made against them because for so long as they do not have notice of this then they cannot be in contempt if they do not comply. I therefore strongly advise that no one tells [the sons] anything about this new case other than to warn them to look out for process servers in Prague.”
VCAT heard that in 2016 the Supreme Court had found Mr Witt guilty of contempt of Court, that he had been fined $25,000 and ordered to pay the plaintiffs’ costs of $127,525 on top of his own legal fees of $369,855.
Mr Witt pleaded guilty to a charge of professional misconduct brought by the Commissioner for his substantial failure to reach or maintain a reasonable standard of competence and diligence.
In assessing the penalty, VCAT took into account the results of the civil contempt proceedings and the fact that the Victorian Legal Services Board had restricted Mr Witt’s practising certificate to allow him to practise only as an employee solicitor from 12 September 2016 to 30 June 2017.
VCAT reprimanded Mr Witt and ordered him to pay the Commissioner’s costs of $10,000.
For further information download the Supreme Court of Victoria decision and the VCAT orders.