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Queensland Judgments
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  • Unreported Judgment

Legal Services Commissioner v Wright

 

[2020] QCAT 438

QUEENSLAND CIVIL AND ADMINISTRATIVE TRIBUNAL

CITATION:

Legal Services Commissioner v Wright [2020] QCAT 438

PARTIES:

Legal Services Commissioner

(applicant)

v

Juliette Barbara Wright

(respondent)

APPLICATION NO/S:

OCR376-19

MATTER TYPE:

Occupational regulation matters

DELIVERED ON:

27 October 2020 (ex tempore)

HEARING DATE:

27 October 2020

HEARD AT:

Brisbane

DECISION OF:

Justice Daubney, President

Assisted by:

Mr Geoffrey Sinclair, Legal Panel Member

Ms Patrice McKay, Lay Panel Member

ORDERS:

  1. In respect of each of Charges 1, 2, 3 and 4, there is a finding that the respondent engaged in professional misconduct.
  2. The Tribunal recommends that the name of Juliette Barbara Wright, also known as Juliette Barbara Mould, be removed from the roll of legal practitioners in Queensland.
  3. The respondent shall pay the applicant’s standard costs of and incidental to this discipline application, such costs to be assessed as if this were a matter in the Supreme Court of Queensland.

CATCHWORDS:

PROFESSIONS AND TRADES – LAWYERS – COMPLAINTS AND DISCIPLINE – PROFESSIONAL MISCONDUCT AND UNSATISFACTORY PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT – OTHER MATTERS – where the applicant Commissioner has brought four charges alleging that the respondent dishonestly applied $75,600 of clients’ money to her own use – where the respondent has admitted all of the allegations and particulars of the charges – where the respondent has not filed any material to explain or excuse her conduct or in mitigation – where the respondent indicated that she would not appear at the hearing and understood orders would be made in her absence – whether the respondent’s conduct under each of the charges constitutes professional misconduct – whether to recommend that the respondent’s name be removed from the roll of legal practitioners in Queensland

Legal Profession Act 2007 (Qld) s 419, s 462

Attorney-General of the State of Queensland v Legal Services Commissioner; Legal Services Commissioner v Shand [2018] QCA 66

Legal Services Commissioner v Meehan [2019] QCAT 17

Legal Services Commissioner v Munt [2019] QCAT 160

Legal Services Commissioner v Perrin [2019] QCAT 188

New South Wales Bar Association v Cummins (2001) 52 NSWLR 279

Prothonotary v Del Castillo [2001] NSWCA 75

APPEARANCES &

REPRESENTATION:

Applicant:

D A Holliday, instructed by the Legal Services Commission

Respondent:

No appearance

REASONS FOR DECISION

  1. [1]
    By this discipline application under the Legal Profession Act 2007 (Qld) (“LPA”) the applicant, the Legal Services Commissioner, has brought four charges against the respondent, Juliette Barbara Wright. In summary, the charges allege that the respondent, over a four-month period in 2017, dishonestly applied $75,600 of clients’ money to her own use. The charges are fully particularised in the discipline application.
  2. [2]
    On 28 January 2020, the respondent filed a response. In that response, the respondent expressly admitted the allegations contained in paragraphs 1 through to 4 of the application and by doing so, the respondent expressly admitted all of the particulars of each of the charges. The respondent has not appeared at today’s hearing. She had previously given the Tribunal notice that she would not be appearing today and that she understood that orders would be made in her absence. The respondent has not filed any material either to explain or excuse her conduct, and has not otherwise put any evidence before the Tribunal with respect to any matters concerning any insight which she may or may not have had into the offending conduct or rehabilitation since that time.
  3. [3]
    The respondent was admitted as a legal practitioner in Queensland on 29January2008. Between 1 July 2014 and 30 June 2016, she held an unrestricted employee-level practising certificate and was employed as a corporate counsel for the franchisor of the business group known as Price Attack. The franchisor itself was a company called Brabus PA Franchising Pty Ltd. During the period from 1 July 2016 to 30 June 2017, the respondent then held an unrestricted principal-level practising certificate and was the legal practitioner director of an incorporated legal practice called Phoenix Lawyers Pty Ltd. In that practice, she continued to act as legal counsel for the Price Attack franchisor.
  4. [4]
    The charges, as already noted, relate to the respondent’s conduct in dishonestly applying some $75,600 to her own use. The circumstances in which each of the charges arose can be stated briefly.
  5. [5]
    In respect of Charge 1, on about 25 January 2017 the respondent issued, when she had no authority to do so, an invoice on the franchisor’s letterhead to the owners of a Price Attack store in Canberra calling on them to pay a franchise fee agreement renewal in the sum of $11,000. Those monies were not, in fact, legitimately owing to the franchisor. The bank account nominated on the invoice issued by the respondent to the franchisee was one controlled by the respondent, and the franchisee ultimately paid 11 equal instalments of $1,000, totalling $11,000, into that bank account. The respondent dishonestly applied that $11,000 to her own use.
  6. [6]
    In respect of Charge 2, the respondent issued, when she had no authority to do so, an invoice on her Phoenix Lawyers letterhead to the owners of the Price Attack store at Brookside, Queensland seeking payment of an assignment fee of $6,100. At that time, the franchisee did owe that sum to the franchisor. The bank account nominated on the invoice was one controlled by the respondent. The franchisee paid $6,100 into that account on 21 March 2017. The respondent dishonestly applied that amount to her own use.
  7. [7]
    In relation to Charge 3, on 30 and 31 March 2017 the respondent issued, on her Phoenix Lawyers letterhead and with no authority to do so, a total of three invoices to the owners of the Price Attack store at Redbank, Queensland. Those invoices sought payment of a training fee in the sum of $5,500, a payment for liquidated assets repossessed by the franchisor in the sum of $33,000, and another payment for liquidated assets repossessed by the franchisor in the sum of $20,000.
  8. [8]
    At that time, the franchisee owed a total of $38,500 to the franchisor for a training fee and a franchise agreement renewal fee. Once again, the bank account nominated on each of the invoices was one controlled by the respondent. The franchisee subsequently paid a total of $38,500 into that bank account. The respondent dishonestly applied that money to her own use. The sum of $20,000 was not paid by the franchisee and it was not a legitimate fee owing to the franchisor.
  9. [9]
    In relation to Charge 4, on about 21 March 2017 the respondent issued, on her Phoenix Lawyers letterhead and without authority to do so, an invoice to the owners of the Price Attack store at Joondalup, Western Australia, seeking payment of an assignment fee of $20,000. At that time, the franchisee owed that sum to the franchisor. Once again, the bank account nominated on the invoice was one controlled by the respondent, and the franchisee paid the $20,000 into that bank account on 21March2017. The respondent dishonestly applied that $20,000 to her own use.
  10. [10]
    The respondent resigned from her role as legal counsel for the franchisor on about 26May 2017, and on that day a Ms Richards entered into a contract with the franchisor to start as legal counsel. On a subsequent investigation, discrepancies were discovered, where franchisees told the franchisor that they had paid invoices, but no funds had been received by the franchisor. There were then communications between Ms Richards, the new counsel, and the respondent, including emails in which the respondent made full admissions in relation to her conduct. There was then repayment of monies that the respondent had applied to her own use under the conduct particularised in the charges.
  11. [11]
    It is clear enough, however, that the conduct under each of the charges was palpably and obviously dishonest conduct. It was clearly conduct which ought be characterised as professional misconduct, within the meaning of that term in the LPA.[1] There will be a finding in respect of each of Charges 1, 2, 3 and 4 that the respondent engaged in professional misconduct.
  12. [12]
    Turning then to the question of sanction, this Tribunal and other similar disciplinary bodies have repeatedly made the point that honesty is an essential character trait for all members of the legal profession.[2] It can equally be said that dishonesty is a very relevant consideration when considering whether a person should be disqualified from membership of the profession.[3] In this case, the respondent, by her conduct, evinced a capacity and a willingness to engage in dishonest conduct. She has given no explanation to this Tribunal for having engaged in that conduct, nor has she offered any excuse. The Tribunal notes that restitution was made after the event. Whilst that restitution needs to be acknowledged, it does not absolve the respondent of the fact that she engaged in repeated dishonest conduct which was inimical to an entitlement to membership of the legal profession.
  13. [13]
    The respondent’s conduct at the time manifested a lack of fitness and propriety for membership of the profession. It is well-established, of course, that the time for deciding the appropriate sanction is the time of hearing; that is, now, rather than the time at which the offending conduct was committed.[4] That being said, however, nothing has been put before this Tribunal by the respondent from which it could make a finding or infer that the character failings of dishonesty manifested in the offending conduct have in any way diminished since the time of the offending conduct. In other words, there is no reason for this Tribunal to conclude other than that the respondent is still not a fit and proper person to be a member of the legal profession, nor is there any basis and no material has been put before the Tribunal from which it could conclude or infer that the respondent is not probably permanently unfit to be a member of the profession.
  14. [14]
    In all the circumstances, given the seriousness of the conduct engaged in by the respondent and the lack of any evidence to provide circumstances in mitigation, the appropriate order to be made is to recommend that the respondent be struck off.
  15. [15]
    There is no reason why the costs order mandated by s 462 of the LPA should not be made.
  16. [16]
    Accordingly, there will be the following orders:
  1. In respect of each of Charges 1, 2, 3 and 4, there is a finding that the respondent engaged in professional misconduct;
  2. The Tribunal recommends that the name of Juliette Barbara Wright, also known as Juliette Barbara Mould, be removed from the roll of legal practitioners in Queensland; and
  3. The respondent shall pay the applicant’s standard costs of and incidental to this discipline application, such costs to be assessed as if this were a matter in the Supreme Court of Queensland.

Footnotes

[1]See LPA s 419.

[2]See, eg, Legal Services Commissioner v Perrin [2019] QCAT 188, [12]; New South Wales Bar Association v Cummins (2001) 52 NSWLR 279, [19]–[20].

[3]See Legal Services Commissioner v Meehan [2019] QCAT 17.

[4]See, eg, Prothonotary v Del Castillo [2001] NSWCA 75, [71]; Attorney-General of the State of Queensland v Legal Services Commissioner; Legal Services Commissioner v Shand [2018] QCA 66, [31]; Legal Services Commissioner v Munt [2019] QCAT 160, [43].

Close

Editorial Notes

  • Published Case Name:

    Legal Services Commissioner v Wright

  • Shortened Case Name:

    Legal Services Commissioner v Wright

  • MNC:

    [2020] QCAT 438

  • Court:

    QCAT

  • Judge(s):

    Daubney J

  • Date:

    27 Oct 2020

Appeal Status

Please note, appeal data is presently unavailable for this judgment. This judgment may have been the subject of an appeal.
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