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Lawyers Complaints Service: Strike off follows failure to account for monies

10 October 2014

Vinay Deobhakta has been struck off by the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal in [2014] NZLCDT 50.

This follows a hearing on 19 November 2013, where the Tribunal found Mr Deobhakta guilty of misconduct (see LawTalk 836, 28 February 2014).

At that hearing, the Tribunal found that Mr Deobhakta had:

  • failed to account for $4,000 in cash his client had given him, along with a cheque for $21,000 payable to the Inland Revenue Department;
  • suggested to his client that the $21,000 cheque be diverted to another purpose of no real value to the client, which was a “significant failure” of his duty to the client;
  • misled his client by signing what purported to be a contingency agreement, which was in reality no such thing, at a time when Mr Deobhakta knew he was about to be made bankrupt, making the document worthless (the contingency agreement provided that the client would be refunded fees if certain “aims” were not “sought”); and
  •  sent “extremely abusive” and “obscene” text messages to his client after the client had instructed another lawyer.

The standards committee submitted that Mr Deobhakta should be struck off for reasons including:

  • His failure to account for $4,000 cash received from his client, which was a serious transgression.
  • As a barrister, he did not have an instructing solicitor at the time of receiving instructions and did not pay the money into a trust account.
  • His request to use $21,000, that the client had paid to him to be available to reduce a tax liability, for an unrelated purpose. This action is a relevant consideration in determining whether the practitioner is a fit and proper person to practise as a lawyer. The Tribunal had found this request to be a significant failure in his duty to his client.
  • That the Tribunal had found that Mr Deobhakta had provided the “contingency” agreement knowing it to be worthless, given that he was about to be made bankrupt and given that Mr Deobhakta regarded the document as requiring that certain “aims” be sought rather than any particular outcomes achieved.
  • That Mr Deobhakta’s actions in respect of the agreement were dishonest, or very close to dishonesty, such that they should be treated extremely seriously by the Tribunal and therefore justify strike-off.
  • That he admitted sending extremely abusive and obscene text messages to his client which was conduct that must bring the profession into disrepute.
  • That taken as a whole, Mr Deobhakta’s conduct was so serious as to undermine the reputation and standards of the legal profession. It established that he is not a fit and proper person to practise as a lawyer.
  • That the public interest, including the protection of the public, and the need to maintain professional standards, require that he be prohibited from practising.

“The Tribunal has reached the conclusion that it should order that Mr Deobhakta be struck off the roll,” it said. In doing so, it accepted the submissions summarised above.

“The Tribunal also finds that there are matters that aggravate the situation. Mr Deobhakta shows lack of remorse for his behaviour, preferring to say that he made mistakes in respect of the cheques.

“He displays lack of insight into his conduct, again preferring to put forward matters of justification in respect of the agreement.

“There are no matters of mitigation which persuade the Tribunal away from its decision to strike the practitioner off the roll,” the Tribunal said.

As well as the strike off, the Tribunal ordered Mr Deobhakta to pay his client $4,000 compensation, and to pay the Law Society $25,903.62 standards committee costs and $6,346 Tribunal costs.

Last updated on the 17th March 2016