Failing to disclose a beneficial interest in a property which was the subject of Family Court proceedings has resulted in a finding of conduct unbecoming under the Law Practitioners Act 1982 (which was in force at the time) for lawyer Sandrine Anderson. The Tribunal noted the conduct was serious and worthy of a clear response and ultimately imposed a fine of $5,000 after mitigating factors were taken into consideration.
The charge related to Ms Anderson’s conduct while engaged in a personal matrimonial dispute in the early 2000s. Ms Anderson had entered an agreement with a close friend and client whereby he would purchase the former matrimonial home and then later resell it to Ms Anderson at an agreed price. In Family Court proceedings, Ms Anderson swore an affidavit stating that she had no legal interest in the property other than as a tenant. She failed to disclose her beneficial interest in the property through the buy back agreement, which had largely been completed by this time. Ms Anderson also filed an affidavit of assets and liabilities in which she was specifically asked to disclose any beneficial interests but again failed to disclose the full extent of her interest in the former matrimonial home.
The Tribunal noted that misconduct under Law Practitioners Act 1982 (LPA) must occur “in a professional capacity”. The Tribunal held that Ms Anderson was not acting in a professional capacity at the time these affidavits were filed as she was separately represented by counsel. As a result, the Tribunal held the conduct did not amount to misconduct under the LPA and it was instead conduct unbecoming. The Tribunal noted this did not minimise the seriousness of her conduct.
Ms Anderson acknowledged she had misled the Court and could not explain her reason for doing so due to the length of time that had passed and her personal circumstances at the time. She had been on the verge of reporting the conduct herself when the complaint was made. Acknowledging these factors, as well as Ms Anderson’s long service to the profession and her community, the Tribunal imposed a fine of $5,000. In its decision, the Tribunal emphasised the importance of any counsel’s duty of utmost candour to the Court. Ms Anderson was also ordered to pay 50 per cent of the Tribunal’s costs.