Advocates 'mounted steed of greed'
Pretoria - Thirteen Pretoria advocates who "mounted the steed of greed" and milked the Road Accident Fund will have to pay back more than R15.6m of their ill-gotten gains, the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria heard on Thursday.
Six of the advocates were struck off the roll.
The case was also referred to the Law Society for further action against the attorneys complicit in the conduct of the advocates.
Retired Judges Kees van Dijkhorst, Piet Combrinck and William de Villiers expressed "sorrow" about the case and said it gave them no joy to sit in judgment on 13 senior members of the Pretoria Bar.
The advocates accepted multiple cases on the same day (so-called double briefing) and charged a full day's fee for each case (overreaching), a practice that had become rife in Pretoria in 2009.
"When counsel mount the steed of greed and attempt to clear the hurdle of their professional rules their fall inevitably dents the reputation of the profession, in this case the proud reputation of the Pretoria Bar.
"We write this judgment in sorrow and lament the loss of integrity, in the past the hallmark of the profession of advocates.
"We sit in judgment on thirteen senior members of the Bar, among them two silks, who by their action have brought the good name of their profession into disrepute.
"They are not novices. They are experts in their particular field of litigation, which is claims against the Road Accident Fund for damages arising from personal injuries.
"They have been at the Bar for decades, some as long as 32 years. They were regarded as men of good standing," the judges said.
The ruling follows an application by the General Council of the Bar to strike off all thirteen advocates. The Pretoria Bar, however, asked the court to confirm sanctions already imposed on twelve of the advocates, including fines and suspensions.
Reading a summary of their ruling, Judge Van Dijkhorst said it struck one as odd that the Bar Council did not require the advocates to make amends and return the ill-gotten gains, nor did the advocates offer to do so.
"One would have thought that this is basic where remorse is expressed to be present, especially where the gains far outstrip the fines imposed.
"The game of breaking the rules may never be seen to be worth the candle of sanctions," he said.
Judge Van Dijkhorst said none of the advocates could not have been aware of the rules and specific circulars relating to multiple trial briefs.
He said it appeared that despite being aware of the wide-spread practice of multiple briefing, there was no action until September 2009 when a senior member of the Bar laid a complaint.
"Why was the Bar Council so supine? Why did it fiddle while Rome burnt? It is hardly surprising when some of the transgressors sat in the meetings of the Council and its committees.
"But there is a deeper reason. It is the widely held fallacy that without a specific complaint against a specific member there can be no action.
"This situation can be likened to a fire brigade which sees towering flames and billowing smoke but stays put because nobody has reported a fire.
"We suggest that the Bar Council gets its house in order. The rot is in the woodwork," he said.
The judges struck the names of advocates Thillay Pillay, Theunis Botha, Toy de Klerk, Percy Leopeng, Daniel Mogagabe and French Bezuidenhout off the roll and ordered them to repay the RAF.
The worst offender was Bezuidenhout, who was ordered to pay back over R5.9m over the next year.
All of them had brazenly defied the rules and continued their unprofessional conduct even after the Bar Council called for their books. Some also "fiddled" with their hours.
Advocates Brenton Geach SC, Don Williams SC, Stef Gldenpfennig, Mark Upton, Ephraim Seima, Cassie Jordaan and Colin van Onselen were also given a year to repay the RAF and were given either suspended sentences or sentences suspended for up to a further six months.