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Law firm takes council to court for not paying legal fees

A prominent Adelaide law firm has been involved in a dispute with Burnside Council after alleged unpaid legal fees were incurred by former chief executive Paul Deb.

user iconTony Zhang 15 April 2020 Big Law
Law firm takes council to court
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Court documents reveal that GMG Legal Services has asked the council to pay nearly $7,400 for advice received by former chief executive Mr Deb.

This comes after Mr Deb had received a legal letter on 22 February last year from law firm HWL Ebsworth – “purportedly acting for the council”, according to the court documents.

Mr Deb was dismissed without notice in June last year following allegations he made negative comments about councillors.

 
 

Documents reveal that the incident began when Mr Deb sought legal advice from GMG after a complaint was made to him by a councillor in October 2018, relating to email comments by two senior managers.

Mr Deb investigated the matter and, following legal advice from GMG, issued a final warning letter to both managers that would remain on their personal records for 12 months.

However, documents show that one of the managers lodged a “grievance notification” with the council against the disciplinary action taken by the former chief executive.

That letter sought disclosure of any written legal advice and a summary of any verbal legal advice relating to a complaint made by the manager.

GMG lawyers, on behalf of Mr Deb, then advised Ebsworth that disciplinary action against council staff, such as the manager, “[is] the purview of the CEO rather than the elected members of the council and as such the requested information would not be provided by Mr Deb”.

HWL Ebsworth then advised Mr Deb that the manager’s grievance notice would be considered at a special meeting of elected members on 14 March 2019.

The final warning issued by Mr Deb to the manager was overturned at that meeting.

Mr Deb then sought further legal advice from GMG on the legality of the resolution to interfere with the disciplinary action he had taken against the manager.

But following a secret meeting of the council, Mr Deb had his employment terminated without notice.

GMG now claims the council owes a total of $7,400 in unpaid legal fees for the advice given to Mr Deb.

Court documents reveal that the council has not paid up, and stated its refusal to pay last year in a letter dated September 19.

A directions hearing has been set for 10 July.

It was reported that Burnside ratepayers have been left with a legal bill of at least $260,000 at the conclusion of a civil court case in which the council had not been a party.

The revelations come as the eastern suburbs council announced it exceeded $1 million in legal fees for the financial year ending 2017/18.

Recently a rural council had been put on administration after legal fees took up a substantial proportion of the council’s budget.