Local lawyer suspended

2017-03-23 14:32
Claudia Garella was suspended from practising as an attorney on Wednesday.

Claudia Garella was suspended from practising as an attorney on Wednesday. (File)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Glamorous Pietermaritzburg lawyer Claudia Garella was temporarily suspended from practising as an attorney on Wednesday.

This is amid allegations that she was seen “editing and manipulating” bank statements on her computer and stands accused of having stolen R750 000 entrusted to her by a client.

The allegations appear in court papers filed in support of an application by the KwaZulu-Natal Law Society to strike Garella off the roll of attorneys, in the Pietermaritzburg high court on Wednesday.

Garella’s name was called out at the high court yesterday but she did not put in an appearance to defend the action.

This resulted in Judge Anton van Zyl granting an interim interdict in terms of which Garella is suspended from practising as an attorney until the matter is finalised.

In terms of the court order, she has until May 22 to oppose the application to strike her permanently from the roll.

Her current whereabouts are unknown.

According to court documents, Garella has been practising as an attorney since November 2009.

In terms of the order, a court-appointed curator will take over the running of the practice and her trust accounts.

Assistant manager of regulatory affairs for the KZN Law Society, Nadira Harripersad, said in an affidavit, dated February 14, that the society’s council had resolved to apply to strike Garella’s name off the roll of attorneys.

The decision was based on an “interim report” prepared by two of the society’s councillors, John Christie and Richard Scott.

They had recommended that “at the very least” the society should apply for Garella’s immediate suspension.

The report by Christie and Scott followed an inspection prompted by a high court action against Garella late last year by a former client, Guerrino Piovesan.

Piovesan went to court to demand that Garella pay him R750 000 he alleges he paid into her trust account and which he said she failed to repay to him on demand.

At the time Garella denied owing Piovesan the money. She told The Witness she had electronically transferred it to the bank account of attorney Karen Hepburn on July28 last year in line with Piovesan’s instructions.

She also claimed to have provided Piovesan and his lawyer, Petrus Coetzee, with proof of payment.

According to Christie and Scott’s interim report — which was attached to the court papers — they had tried to contact Garella from December 13 last year to no avail. They were unable to make any progress with their inquiries until after the festive season.

The report states that in early January they were contacted by one of Garella’s employees.

The woman (also an attorney) told them that soon after starting work for Garella last November she’d become “alarmed” when she allegedly noticed Garella “attempting to edit or manipulate bank statements on her computer, and also instructing certain employees to check that the totals reflected on the bank statements equaled the itemised entries on the bank statements”.

According to Scott and Christie, the woman said she had been “agonising” over the issue for some time but decided to disclose the information to the society “as a result of threats to her” by Garella.

In the meantime the society was also still investigating the Piovesan matter.

Among the documents the law society obtained were copies of Garella’s trust bank statements, which were supplied to a firm of attorneys who previously represented Garella and which she allegedly “attempted to use in order to obtain a loan from Capitec Bank”.

“Various other allegations were made that raise suspicions including the fact that while Ms Garella was in custody she somehow managed to arrange a temporary release from custody and proceeded to a house in Cordwalles Road where she allegedly broke a window in order to gain access to her banking records,” according to Christie and Scott’s report. “She apparently spent a considerable amount of time working on the bank statements — often in the bedroom,” they said.

The report adds that it is “apparent from a casual perusal of the copies of the bank statements which we have in our possession that they have been falsified”.

According to Scott and Christie, one of the managers at FNB showed them the bank statements concerned “did not agree” with the records of FNB and that “the entry showing the payment of R750 000 to Karen Hepburn as alleged by Ms Garella is false”.

When Christie called at Garella’s offices at Maritzburg Arch in January, he found them unlocked, but deserted. “I was informed by the letting agent that all employees had apparently deserted the firm,” he added.

He said on January 12 he received a text message from Garella saying the following: “Afternoon John, I believe you and Richard are on a nationwide search for me.

“I have elected to take a 12-month sebatical (sic) the KZNLS should have received my notification through my attorneys. Please contact Stretch.”

In reply he sent a text to Garella asking her to make herself and her records available for an inspection by the society. She indicated that she would do so and would talk to him the next day, but no subsequent meeting took place.

In addition, Christie said local attorney Richard Stretch had made it clear to them that he did not represent Garella, even though he had assisted her with a bail application the previous year.

“According to Mr Stretch it is abundantly clear that Ms Garella has abandoned her practice,” Christie states in the report.

Previous reports

The Witness reported in January that Garella’s lease at her new premises at Maritzburg Arch Lifestyle Centre was cancelled after she allegedly failed to pay rent. The upmarket premises were officially opened on December 2 last year and guests reported being “surprised” when their hostess, Garella, arrived late for the cocktail function.

The Witness also confirmed with SAPS spokesperson Mthokozisi Ngobese at that time that a criminal docket had been opened at Townhill police station in connection with Piovesan’s “missing R750 000”.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

Inside News24

Competition regulation for a growing and inclusive economy

ADVERTORIAL: The Competition Commission of South Africa is conducting advocacy work in the South African automotive aftermarket industry and has gazetted a Draft Code of Conduct for public comment.

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.