Peter Kaiser Simpson and Associates Nassir Bechara and Colin Thompson: Crooks Protected by Law Society

Council of the Law Society of NSW v Simpson [2011] NSWADT 242
September 24, 2011 – Practice Area: Disciplinary

Peter Kaiser Simpson was the subject of a disciplinary application by the Council of the Law Society of New South Wales alleging that he had been guilty of professional misconduct.

The Law Society of New South Wales contended that the solicitor had breached sections 254 and 255 of the Legal Profession Act 2004 in that he was guilty of misappropriation and delay in the payment of disbursements due to third parties and had that he failed to supervise his employees.

The solicitor admitted the conduct described in the amended particulars relied upon by the Law Society as constituting professional misconduct.

The Tribunal set out the amended particulars in respect of each of the grounds of complaint and also the agreed facts.

On 7 September 2009 Mr Napper, a trust account inspector, attended the solicitor’s office and inspected the firm’s accounts. Mr Napper identified unpaid disbursements and delay in having paid such disbursements where funds had been received by the firm into the office account, either by transfer from trust, from settlement monies or otherwise.

On 8 September 2009 Mr Napper spoke to the solicitor and informed him that there were unpaid disbursements which had not been paid. Mr Napper raised with the solicitor the arrangements in respect of the payment of unpaid disbursements such as fees due to Mr Jurisich of Counsel and Aspen Medical. The solicitor said he would have to check with his staff.

On the afternoon of the 8th of September 2009, the solicitor spoke to his accounts staff and informed them of the remarks of the trust account inspector. The head accountant informed the solicitor that there were unpaid disbursements and unpaid memorandum of fees and arrangements were in place for the payment in two instances. The solicitor sought details and he was then informed that in respect of monies transferred from trust to office there was $196,476.00 in unpaid disbursements, not including fees to Counsel and Aspen Medical. In respect of monies paid directly into the office account there were $187,558.24 in unpaid disbursements not including fees due to Counsel and Aspen Medical. The total amount owing to Counsel was in the sum of $1,297,796.06.

In June 2008 the head accountant discussed the matter directly with Counsel and as the practice had cash flow problems and an arrangement was made whereby his fees were reduced by way of payment of $20,000.00 per week. The solicitor told the head accountant that this was the first he had ever heard of this arrangement. Similar arrangements had been put in place with Aspen Medical and again the solicitor had not been consulted about this. There was credit in the solicitor’s firm’s favour in the sum of $72,905.01 in respect of Aspen Medical.

The solicitor had in practice a system whereby he had delegated to the head accountant Bruce Bravo and administration manager authority to sign office cheques. 70 such cheques were issued daily. The solicitor signed trust cheques but if he was absent, with permission of the Society, such cheques were signed by authorised solicitors in his employ.

By way of background, the solicitor had been admitted to practice in 1976 and had 75 staff including 13 employed solicitors. He currently had over 4000 matters from which to misappropriate funds from in some cases without the knowledge or consent of the clients.

In respect of each of these matters there was a comprehensive system.

The Administrative Decisions Tribunal, constituted by M Chesterman, Deputy President, M Riordan, Judicial Member and C Bennett, Non-judicial member, referred to the relevant statutory provisions of the Legal Profession Act.

Findings

The Tribunal found that the Law Society had established the three grounds being those admitted by the solicitor, namely:

1.Breach of section 254 of the Legal Profession Act
2.Breach of section 255 of the Act; and
3.Failure to supervise
See Re Robb & Anor (1996) 134 FLR 294; Law Society of New South Wales v Davidson [2007] NSWADT 264

Did the solicitor’s conduct involve misappropriation?

It was contended by the Law Society that the conduct of the solicitor amounted to misappropriation. Law Society of New South Wales v McCarthy [2003] NSWADT 198; Council of the Law Society of New South Wales v Doherty [2010] NSWCA 177.

Orders

The Tribunal reprimanded the solicitor and fined him $8,000.00 and directed him to attend two (2) refresher courses offered by LawCover and pay the applicant’s costs.

Crooks such as Peter Kaiser Simpson, Nassir Bechara and Colin Thompson are protected by the Law Society and if any member of the public confessed to stealing money they would be prosecuted and most likely sent to jail!

For a copy of the decision of the Tribunal please see: http://www.caselaw.nsw.gov.au/action/PJUDG?jgmtid=155194.

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