Advocates 'mounted steed of greed'

2011-09-29 22:31

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.

  • Bill - 2011-09-29 23:01

    I advocate that they should do jail time...!

      mobiles - 2011-09-30 00:25

      Hasn`t this become a normal ``day to day practice`` in South Africa ? Just look at the government ... need I say more ?

      cliffarc - 2011-09-30 00:57

      - The legal profession in this country is diabolical. The Bar Council and Law Societies are nothing more than an old boys club. Dont even attempt approaching them for assistance with a complaint against one of their members. Other than trust account fraud, they will back their members and stonewall your complaint. Legal fees are unregulated and for practioners it's become a free for all. It's high time this profession is subjected to regulatory controls and accountability beomes mandatory.

      Mikea - 2011-09-30 09:07

      100% Mobiles. Taking money away from people who have possibly lost love ones and or become disabled. Sick people. I wouldn't have expected anything else really. They sould be shamed and named.

      BN2010 - 2011-09-30 10:14

      @Mswati. Yes, they are white and they must be punished. Let's not turn this into yet another race issue. They are criminals who broke the law and they must be removed from society, just like all criminals, black or white, educated or uneducated, members of the ANC or any other party, members of government or ordinary citizens. The law and the constitution must be respected and obeyed by ALL. Whether it is rape, murder, theft, corruption, singing of banned songs, or whatever. You can challenge whatever law you want, but until then you must respect the LAW. Without respect for the law we as a country, as a people, are nothing more than animals, and deserve NOTHING good until we get our own house in order & work towards a better future for all.

      The Wonderer - 2011-09-30 10:41

      I'll say it again, it's HIGH time the government starts paying back the R40 BILLION in wasteful expenditure they've wasted!

      lillian.vandenberg.5 - 2012-08-13 12:13

      Do you have any substantial proof? Otherwise keep your mouth shut!

  • Debbie - 2011-09-29 23:11

    Name and shame them!

      Ntombi - 2011-09-30 06:46

      i) Name & shame ii) Pay back the money iii) Asset forfeiture iv) Jail

  • Anonymous Thinker - 2011-09-29 23:28

    Guess they reckon if government can "mount the steed of greed" then why not them. Corruption, fraud and theft are the only exapmles government sets these says.

      Mandla - 2011-09-30 04:24

      corruption is not justfied,governmant or not governmant.

  • Atholl - 2011-09-30 00:02

    "We write this judgment in sorrow and lament the loss of integrity," .... the French translation for the unsuspecting public and RAF :... "our blood is boiling and smoke is billowing from our ears" The photographs of of advocates Thillay Pillay, Theunis Botha, Toy de Klerk, Percy Leopeng, Daniel Mogagabe and French Bezuidenhout should be published on the 'net in exacly the same way that they are displayed on the website: .............. Words can be translated with different meanings - but a picture says a thousand words

      The Poet - 2011-09-30 18:00

      nice chorus.

  • mabsie - 2011-09-30 00:57

    This saddens me. Men of "integrity" being so fraudulent does not bode well for the man in the street as it send out a very bad message. Its a case of if those legal men can do that then I can also do crime. Glad they were caught and the punishment needs to be harsh. I always thought we had a fine judiciary. Shame on you.

  • The Poet - 2011-09-30 02:01

    A Poem: Law and order What's the game? The advocates name is now up in shame. The Bar took a look in the little black book, Their personal need was pure simple greed. Listen to their pleading without moral meaning, Let them stand at your feet,Piet and let others take their seat.

      Atholl - 2011-09-30 07:23

      v nice, I like the beat, and the chorus is: .... Anything, anything Anything for money Would lie for you Would die for you Even sell my soul to the devil

      CURRENTLY ABUSED - 2011-09-30 07:26

      You are a poet and didn't know it.

  • Mandla - 2011-09-30 04:11

    White colar crime not easy to detect.Whites are busy milking the RAF illegaly on the other side blacks are busy with tender corruption.Who is innocent blacks or whites.who is corrupt black or whites,i found no answers to these questions.Coruption is all over in South Africa and it does not have colour or does it speak any langauge. Tenders thats milking the poor,Advocates milking the poor,who must we poor people turn to,it looks like everybody if after us poor people.They is a price tag on the head of a poor men,they all do things in the name of helping the poor whilst they are milking the poor for their own benefits.

      Chris - 2011-09-30 05:40

      Thank you for writing an article that sees the problem in the correct light. It is clear that we have lost our moral compass. It starts with all of us when we break simple laws with impunity on a daily basis. We drive our lethal weapons and ignore the laws governing use of our roads. The question is whether we can reverse this slide into anarchy? Maybe we can should we each decide to become model citizens and demonstrate to those around us that we are prepared to law abiding. Let us all become whistle blowers every time we see someone committing a wrong against our children's future moral good health.

  • TOPPIE143 - 2011-09-30 05:45

    No more space in hell. Filled with legal staff!

  • JohnnySolo - 2011-09-30 06:11

    Did not even ONE of theses bottom feeders get jail time? Clearly, the rot is much deper than it seems. Shame on you "Judges"! Fraud is a criminal offence and fraudsters routinely get imprisoned. Why not these pillars of scumdom? Huh? Shame on you "Judges", again and again and again .... the slime at the bottom is thick indeed!

  • gatvol4corru - 2011-09-30 06:42

    Never trust a lawyer? let them work from jail for the poor

  • Kate - 2011-09-30 06:43

    Clearly no proper proceedures at the RAF if this happens. Oh, we talking about a Government department again !!! suspend the idiot at the RAF too for allowing this. Why suspend these advocates for 6 months? If they have the evidence bloody fire them.

  • Mike Lager - 2011-09-30 06:48

    I hope they left something for me.

  • Michael - 2011-09-30 07:00

    Good news for a change. What do you call a busload of advocates driving off a cliff? A good start. A politician and a lawyer fall off a cliff, racing to their death. Who wins? Humanity

  • kingkong - 2011-09-30 07:08

    that why they drive flashy cars at the expence of the tax payer but it seem to be the norm these days from the top to hell and gone

  • Buffoon - 2011-09-30 07:17

    Politicians and lawyers(and advocates etc)from the same mould. 94% give the other 6% a bad name!

  • fussed - 2011-09-30 07:19

    speak to any lawyer about payment only after your case and only if he/she wins Lawyer are the only persons that will win weather they lose or win. some will just keep screwing you until you have nothing left. Never let them know what you have or own. Always plead povety

  • mmmorrell - 2011-09-30 07:37

    i think they should pay it back.they earn big bucks anyway.

  • JWO85 - 2011-09-30 07:52

    @Cliffarc, i suppose you speak from experience Good Sir? I am a practising attorney and i'll have you know i work bloody hard for my money. You come to me with your problems, i tell you my fee - which you all readily admit to being able to pay, i sort out your problem and then you tell me that you don't want to pay my fee's anymore - it's ridiculous and hypocritical to the highest degree. Do you know i was at the Doctor the other day and the good Doctor charged me R700.00 for a 15 minute consult. I don't even charge that for an hour's worth of work. You people are only too happy to pay your doctor, dentist or mechanic but God forbid you pay an attorney who sorted out the mess you got yourself into in the first place. Shame on you people for judging us. As with every profession there are bad apples. These men have been judged and our now suffering the consequences. Not all of us are like that. We work hard and we should be rewarded for our time, because that is what we are selling - time. I invite you to do the job that i do and charge peanuts for the effort you put it - then we'll see how big your mouth is.

      leonard - 2011-09-30 08:09

      @JWO85.......I seriously must be on the brink of a breakdown.Never ever thought I would try to defend a lawyer or the legal profession but in this instance I agree with JW.I am NOT a lawyer.JW I am sure, is all that he professes to be and I sympathise with him.A small number of bad people in any profession taint the rest.

      d2eguy - 2011-09-30 08:13

      then you are one of a kind as the only honest attorney or lawyer is a dead one . lawyers are greedy , money hungry thieves that will take any case to screw someone out of his money and NO , I have not needed a lawyer to defend me but I have used lawyers as I was an estate agent and I know what sharks I dealt with and how they con money out of us . anyone who earns money defending rapists and child abusers are bigger scum that the scum they are defending .

      Boerseun - 2011-09-30 08:29

      Will you represent me under common law? if not, then it is clear that your loyalty is with your law society and not me and that is where the problem starts.

      cliffarc - 2011-09-30 09:23

      - @ JW - Sure I speak from experience. Try this for size - R100,000 claim ,mag. court matter, fees charged R300,000. Lawyer involved, flatly refuses to provide itemised billing details of his fees. Referred matter to law society 2 years ago, still waiting for resolution. The law society has not even acknowledged that a legal practioner is obliged to provide detaile billing. Their disciplinary standards against their members is all but non-existant. I dont deny there are ethical lawyers, but the profeesion is riddled with far too many that simply are not. To compare doctors to lawyers is hardly appropriate. Short of an incurable condition, doctors cure their patients - something most lawyers never achieve. The legal profession must be the only one where fees are totally disconnected from results and performance. Even if you win a matter in our courts, after fees you still lose.

      ME001 - 2011-09-30 09:42

      JW I agree with you 100%, I was a practising attorney for many years in SA, and am so angry that the actions of a certain group of professionals now suddenly reflect on the legal profession itself. As attorneys,the Law Society does can and does take steps to prevent attorneys from over charging, we must have proper power of attorneys, draw detailed bills and yes, then beg for payment.I am of the view that steps are necessary in the Advocates field to regulate them as much as attorneys are, otherwise this type of thing will continue to happen, and does. I also have a fundamental problem with the RAF, it is badly managed, fingers are being pointed everywhere, and is a fund that should not exist in the first place. I may just point out that my previous partner in my practise, worked at the RAF for many many years, and as little as 12 years ago, it was unacceptable that summons was issued against the RAF, matters were resolved, settled, and paid. Now the doctors working for the RAF and their own attorneys (who they pay less that the Court tariffs!), must sue them for payment. To say that you are one of a kind, is horrifying to me, since there are many good, honest, hard working attorneys in South Africa. Boerseun, I dont understand what you mean, attorneys must follow the Law Society Rules, otherwise they can be struck from the Roll, the Rules are clear, can be read by anyone, are clear and explains a clients rights.

      Sal12345 - 2011-09-30 09:52

      I can confirm your sentiment JWO85, its a thankless job, we not saying we doctors but we are the only professionals that actually get people money. And then to beg for payment is actually BULL especially when it was agreed up front. As for Law Societies not acting I get a stupid complaint once or twice a year and I am required to respond to the Society within 3 weeks of complaint which I do. I have reported previously advantaged colleagues on behalf of clients and I can confirm that I first heard back from my Law Society after 12 to 14 Months and I have called them out on that. I will tell you that they are not willing to act against the Big 5 at all and very reluctantly against previously advantaged and African Black lawyers.

  • Gavin - 2011-09-30 07:56

    Best written story I have read in a long, long time. Well done to the 'journo' ..

  • jweer42 - 2011-09-30 07:59

    Whats with this description??? Is RSA turning into USA where everything need to rhyme in order to be understood?

  • Sir Richard - 2011-09-30 08:03

    the new INFO BILL should protect these trailerpark white trash along with the rest of our thieving trailerpark civil service

  • Megan - 2011-09-30 08:09

    I can't help thinking that if the Road Accident Fund was run properly and efficiently from the very beginning there never would have been an opportunity for this to have happened. Of course, the advocates and all involved are guilty, and they should never have done what they did and should definitely pay the price. But nowhere here has anyone yet mentioned how difficult it would have been for them to get away with it if the whole thing (i.e. RAF) was not shrouded in incompetency. Temptation is very much part of human nature, as is greed and while most of us honest people are capable of looking past both the temptation and the greed, some "honest" people have fallen prey to that ever present need for more. How easy is it to forget your morales, forget your principles and pretty much throw your life away (unintentionally, of course) when the company/issue that you are dealing with makes it so easy to do. Through both their actions, and the incompetency of the RAF as usual it's the man on the street who suffers and surely it's starting to get to the stage where we can't continue to accept that. There needs to be a huge overhaul of the entire RAF system to ensure that things are running the way they should and that others will not be able to pull the same kind (or any other kind) of scam which results in more suffering for your average citizen.

  • Anonymous - 2011-09-30 08:43

    As a practising advocate I can tell you that this is but the tip of the iceberg. Millions are looted from the Fund every day, aside from double briefing. See for example how many "opposed" trials are on the roll every day, and how many of them are "settled" at Court, entitling all concerned to a nice day fee for little effort.

      Sal12345 - 2011-09-30 09:41

      Yes that is correct, but the most guilty parties in this regard are the RAF's Attorneys and Advocates. I have acted on behalf of indigent people many times and this is ALWAYS the case where you propose a settlement which they ignore and a year later at trial they offer to settle for that amount or even more.

  • AlexX - 2011-09-30 08:58

    What a disgrace. all of them should serve a prison term for stealing money. Why sugar coat it? Thank you for at least naming and shaming them

  • kg13 - 2011-09-30 09:16

    What is most surprising, and perhaps disappointing, about some of these harsh comments is how ill-informed and incorrect they are...

      John-Millan - 2011-09-30 10:34

      Someone finally seeing with clarity.

  • crackerr - 2011-09-30 09:21

    The observation below by the court is so apt in other areas in this country as well. "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.

  • All4Justice - 2011-09-30 09:23

    I say the investigation must go deeper, as far as checking how much RAF pays out vs the ammount that ends up in the client's pocket. We all know advocates cheat their "clients" out of hundreds of thousands of rands... Fancy top of the Range cars and houses in expensive estates have come at a high price for these guys!!!!!!!!!

      kg13 - 2011-09-30 10:21

      I am in the legal profession. I live in an expensive estate & drive a nice car. I've worked 1000's of long hours in a weak system with often unreasonable clients. I have never cheated a client of a single cent. I take exception to these generalisations. How about reserving judgement for those situations we know something about?

      cliffarc - 2011-09-30 12:35

      - @ kg13 - then sue us.

      All4Justice - 2011-09-30 14:27

      kg13... Unless you are part of these guys..., I find your defensive stance quite suprising! My comment was clearly directed at these guys that their ill-gotten gains had caught up with them, but hey, if the shoe fits....

  • Tony - 2011-09-30 09:59

    I think some of the comments are BS, you just can't generalising all attorneys and advocates. Think about this another way, if the governement and all the MP isn't corrupted. You think this will happen ? Humans are greedy, admit it. But if the government and MP can build a good image for themselves, you think people will still do this ? We shouldn't flame these attorneys and advocates, we should flame our government, I will flame ANC first. Because those are criminals in there !! They don't have the qualifications to run the government, and they are a bunch of useless people. I would say if they really want to find out the corrupted attorneys or advocates, also find out how corrupted in the government. Then they can punish the people who break the law. Can't believe the MP's break the law everyday.

  • GypseyAnn - 2011-09-30 10:29

    ... and received "a slap on the wrist" - this just seems to be another division of the infamous "gravy train"

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