Acting judge accused of destroying law firm

2017-09-28 10:07
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Durban - A Durban attorney who has acted as a judge in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng has been accused in court papers of attempting to destroy a law firm she allegedly sold to a former employee.

Pavitra Govender, in an urgent Durban High Court application launched this week, says she bought Ndamase Inc - a law firm in Umhlanga - from Bulelwa Ndamase in June last year as a going concern.

The agreement made provision for her to take over some clients, office equipment and employees. It also provided for a restraint of trade against Ndamase.

But now the business has been virtually shut down because of Ndamase's "reprehensible conduct".

Restraint of trade agreement

Govender alleges that not only has Ndamase broken the restraint of trade agreement - and is practising law again - but she has effectively locked her out of the offices, reported her to the law society and has laid baseless criminal charges against her which recently resulted in police seizing her computers.

She alleges Ndamase does not mention the sale agreement in any of these complaints.

In terms of an interim order granted by consent before Judge Jacqui Henriques, the investigating officer was ordered to present the relevant docket to the provincial director of public prosecutions for a decision on the merits of the allegations in it.

It was recorded that Ndamase had undertaken not to lay "any false charges or false complaints" with the police or the law society pending the finalisation of the application.

The matter will be back in court at the end of October.

In her affidavit, Govender said she began work at Ndamase Inc as an articled clerk and then a professional assistant.

Big clients

She said the firm was very busy, mainly doing collections for major clients, including Wesbank and Transnet.

She said Ndamase had done several stints as an acting judge and also ran a clothing business. 

Govender said after signing the agreement, Ndamase had no further involvement in the legal practice, although she continued to make use of an office in the suite and, because of this, still paid half the rental.

"Up until December, the relationship was cordial...she then began pressuring me to take over the lease and the overdraft which was about R400 000," Govender said.

During the December holidays, Ndamase allegedly changed the locks on the doors.

A tense confrontation

"I engaged a locksmith and was uplifting my clients' files and had got about half of them when Ndamase arrived and a tense confrontation ensued. I left the remaining half as well as many of my personal belongings, including my attorney's robe," Govender said.

She said she had managed to retrieve some items and files later, and re-established practice under a different name, Govender Attorneys Incorporated, at different premises "because I thought this would be the easiest path".

But the matter did not rest and Ndamase laid a charge of housebreaking against her. Disputes arose over payment of fees, the use of the internet domain name, and then Ndamase laid further charges of fraud and theft against Govender and lodged the law society complaint.

It then came to her attention that Ndamase was practising law again.

Just last week, police arrived at her offices with a search and seizure warrant and with another one for her home.

Illegal searches

Her attorney, Pregen Govindasamy, objected and said the searches were illegal.

"But we did not want to be accused of trying to obstruct the police. I knew I would be unable to run my practice in the absence of any electronic equipment, but when Govindasamy asked whether they [the police] could make copies of whatever they wanted without taking the hard drives, they said they were too busy for that.

"There has been no indication of when or if these items will ever be returned…my practice has been brought to a standstill," she said.

Ndamase has not yet filed an affidavit and she did not respond to an emailed request for comment or telephone calls from News24. She is expected to oppose the application.

In her complaint to the law society - which is attached to the court papers - she claims it was Govender who breached the terms of an agreement "to take over the practice", which included her taking over the lease and taking over existing liabilities.

These breaches were now costing her and she was being sued, said Ndamase.

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