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‘Great shame’: Qld solicitor removed from roll for financial misconduct

A Queensland solicitor found guilty of trust account misconduct, excessive charging, and cost disclosure failures said his 30-year career ended in “great stress, shame and embarrassment”.

user iconNaomi Neilson 04 January 2024 Big Law
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The Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) has recommended Bradley John Munt, the sole practitioner and principal of Bradley Munt & Co, have his name struck from the roll of practitioners, which would bring an end to a decades-long career.

In a decision handed down days before Christmas, Justice Danielle Brown found Mr Munt failed to make cost disclosures, withdrew trust money without authorisation, excessively charged a client, and failed to comply with a notice issued by the Legal Services Commissioner.

“Such a significant degree of indifference to the fundamental obligations which rest upon him as a legal practitioner supports the fact that the public needs to be protected from such a person continuing or being able to continue in practice,” Justice Brown said.

 
 

Of the 31 charges Mr Munt faced, the majority related to his alleged withdrawal of funds from the trust account without authority, including in circumstances where invoices were not delivered.

While Mr Munt did not appear at the hearing in person, he attempted to explain the trust account misconduct in written submissions by describing a “usual practice” of having staff scan invoices directly to an email which “bypassed any staff inbox or sent box”.

Mr Munt said he then only withdrew money once his bookkeeper – a position his wife assisted with – notified him 14 days had passed.

Justice Brown found there was no evidence of a “usual practice” being followed and no invoices were ever sent to clients.

In two separate charges, clients who engaged Mr Munt to assist with the administration of an estate alleged he overcharged them in circumstances where there was no costs agreement to explain the fees, and bills were prepared on a lump sum basis “with scant detail”.

Between October 2019 and April 2019, QCAT heard Mr Munt issued an invoice for $18,175. A cost assessor would later issue an itemised bill for $4,425, some 75 per cent less than Mr Munt’s original bill.

“Such a dramatic difference between the original bill and the itemised bill as assessed supports the fact that the charging was excessive,” Justice Brown found when establishing the first of the two charges.

Despite then having the cost assessor’s bill, Mr Munt issued another invoice to the same clients in August 2019 for $6,750.

Justice Brown noted there was a 59.57 per cent difference, which she said was “inexplicable by any explanation other than the respondent’s charge being excessive and unjustified”.

The significant reduction between the adjusted amount and the final assessed amount supported the second charge.

In his affidavit, Mr Munt said his workload had increased “enormously”, he was working long hours, there was a high turnover of staff, and he was dealing with personal issues.

He added he was “treading water trying to practice in total chaos and is upset his otherwise unblemished career has ended as it has”.

Justice Brown said these excuses “demonstrate a lack of insight into the primary obligations of a legal practitioner and lack of prioritisation and do not explain, let alone excuse, the level of failure of the respondent over an extended period of time”.

“In the present case, the respondent’s conduct shows a failure to demonstrate integrity, reliability, or an appropriate level of efficiency in relation to the administration of trust money to a degree that demonstrates that he was and remains unfit to practice.

“The respondent has, by his conduct, shown a failure to understand the most basic but critically important obligations of a solicitor to a client,” Justice Brown said.

In addition to a recommendation for his name to be removed, Mr Munt was publicly reprimanded and ordered to pay costs.