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Lawyer caught in online child grooming sting cops sanction

Lawyer caught in online child grooming sting cops sanction

Efforts to have a Queensland lawyer struck off after he was caught attempting to groom and procure a child online have failed, with a tribunal choosing instead to suspend him for four years.

Disgraced lawyer Gary Robert Woodman will be allowed to apply for a practising certificate in 2021, following a decision by the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal that his professional misconduct warrants a four-year suspension.

Woodman has not practised law since he was charged over sexualised online conversations that he thought he was having with 14-year-old girl Abbey Jones in 2014.

The girl, who used the profile name Abbey18, told the former law firm partner that she was in grade 10 and a student living with her mother.

Using the online pseudonym Gary59, Woodman, chatted with the girl, who was in fact an undercover police officer.

In one Skype video call, he exposed his penis and masturbated. During another call, Woodman instructed the girl to undress and masturbate. He later exposed himself again and told Abbey to keep their interaction a secret.

Police later raided the lawyer’s unit in Chermside and seized a laptop and phone. Woodman entered guilty pleas to the charges and was given a wholly suspended sentence.  

Queensland’s District Court heard that before the offence, Woodman lost his job as a law firm partner and experienced the breakdown of his second marriage some years prior.

After Woodman’s criminal proceedings were finalised, the Legal Services Commissioner applied to have his name struck off the roll of practising solicitors. The commissioner told the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal Woodman had not shown any insight or remorse for his conduct in the disciplinary proceedings.

The tribunal said it was satisfied with evidence that Woodman’s offence caused him a great deal of shame, apology and remorse.

In a decision handed down last November, the tribunal found Woodman had engaged in professional misconduct but that his appalling behaviour was not enough to compel the removal of his name from the roll.

“The conduct of the respondent in this case was disgraceful, and of the kind that appals both his professional peers and the public alike.

“At the present time, he is far from recovered from the aftermath of his offences, and his capacity to function professionally is, to say the least, questionable.

“Having regard to his present state and to the gravity of his offences, I find that he is not at present a fit and proper person to engage in legal practice,” the decision read.

Comparing Woodman’s misconduct against other similar disciplinary hearings, the tribunal distinguished offending of a serious nature with a practitioner’s ability to discharge his or her duties ethically and competently. It found that there was no case to suggest Woodman was permanently unfit to practice a solicitor, however flagged a future application for a practising certificate may be difficult.

Woodman had practised as a lawyer for more than 30 years before he lost his job.

“The offences were serious and distasteful enough to require a significant period of disqualification or suspension from practice. It is desirable to signify the seriousness with which such conduct is regarded, and to enable rehabilitation to take place, and to maintain public confidence in the profession.”

“It is by no means certain that the respondent would succeed if he were to apply for a practising certificate after the end of the intended suspension, or even that he would wish to do so,” the tribunal said.

Given that two years have now passed since the lawyer last practised, the tribunal decided to impose an additional four-year disqualification. 

“He is already 62 years of age, and the prospect of further professional activity may be, to say the least, beset with difficulty,” the tribunal said.

The Legal Services Commissioner is reported to be appealing the tribunal's decision. 

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