Writing directly to judicial officer without involving opponents is inappropriate conduct
November 9, 2018
A veteran solicitor, who repeatedly sent correspondence to a Magistrate without including the opposing solicitor, has been reprimanded by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
Mornington Peninsula solicitor, Mr Michael Gullquist, was found guilty of professional misconduct after he sent a series of letters directly to the Magistrate between appearances before the NSW Local Court. The letters were not sent to the opposing solicitor as required by professional conduct rules.
In all, Mr Gullquist sent five letters to the Court, three of which were personally addressed to the Magistrate. When the solicitor for the opposing side found out about the letters, he requested Mr Gullquist desist writing privately to the Magistrate. Mr Gullquist, however, continued to do so.
The Victorian Legal Services Commissioner told VCAT that in one of the letters Mr Gullquist complained to the Magistrate about the procedural fairness of a previous hearing. He asked that the Magistrate reconsider his refusal to allow Mr Gullquist to provide written submissions on behalf of his client. Mr Gullquist copied that letter to the Judicial Commission of New South Wales.
VCAT found that the exclusion of the opposing side in all correspondence was inappropriate. Although the letter copied to the Judicial Commission was not found to be threatening, VCAT said that it came close to being perceived as threatening.
VCAT found Mr Gullquist guilty of professional misconduct, reprimanded him and ordered that he complete an additional five professional development units covering ethics and professional responsibilities. VCAT also ordered that for the next two years, if Mr Gullquist was to correspond directly with a judicial officer as part of a litigation matter he was handling for a client, he was to engage a senior practitioner to review and provide feedback on that proposed correspondence. Mr Gullquist was also ordered to pay half of the Commissioner’s costs.
Mr Gullquist appealed the VCAT finding, and in December 2017 the Supreme Court of Victoria refused his leave to appeal. Mr Gullquist then sought leave to appeal the Supreme Court ruling, and in October 2018 the Court of Appeal refused his application for leave to appeal, meaning the VCAT decision stood.