Former principal reprimanded for failure to supervise thieving clerk - Victorian Legal Services Board + Commissioner

Former principal reprimanded for failure to supervise thieving clerk

August 3, 2018

A former law practice principal has been reprimanded after he failed to supervise an employee who was later imprisoned for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from his clients.

The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal heard that Gippsland solicitor, Mr John Maguire, was the principal with responsibility for the Cowes office of Birch Ross & Barlow, when his employee law clerk, Ms Cheryl Rowe, caused a loss of approximately $3.1 million to at least 38 clients over a ten-year period.

The Victorian Legal Services Commissioner told VCAT that as principal for the office, Mr Maguire was responsible for the supervision of Ms Rowe, her handling of client files and the accounting for trust money received and paid by the office. The Commissioner said that Mr Maguire had failed to control or supervise Ms Rowe, and had failed to check that receipts of trust money were properly credited to the correct file, that payments were properly authorised and that the trust ledger entries corresponded with the amounts on the relevant files.

VCAT heard that Ms Rowe’s misappropriations were eventually discovered in 2013 after a client made a complaint to the Commissioner about a late trust payment. Ms Rowe was imprisoned in 2017 for five years after she was found guilty of the theft of over $650,000 and false accounting. The judge in her criminal trial commented that a very significant amount of money remained missing.

The Commissioner said that Mr Maguire left the partnership within months of the misappropriations coming to light, and has not practised law since.

Mr Maguire pleaded guilty to professional misconduct for ‘gross neglect in the discharge of his professional obligations’.

In considering an appropriate penalty, VCAT took into account Mr Maguire’s guilty plea and Undertaking not to apply for a practising certificate in any jurisdiction at any time in the future. VCAT was also asked to consider the serious nature of Mr Maguire’s failure to supervise, his lack of insight and the significant consequences of his failings.

VCAT reprimanded Mr Maguire and ordered him to pay the Commissioner’s costs.

For further information, download the VCAT decision.