South Sydney lawyer guilty of professional misconduct
The former principal of a Kogarah-based firm has been found guilty of professional misconduct, with a decision on protective orders stood over for a second stage hearing.
Amil Dlakic, who was the principal of Johnston Vaughan in the southern Sydney suburb of Kogarah, had his then unrestricted principal’s practising certificate suspended by the Law Society of New South Wales in October 2014.
The suspension followed a routine trust account investigation from which suspicions were raised of misappropriation, breaching an undertaking, causing a deficiency in the firm’s trust account, breaches of the then-Legal Profession Act, and supposed attempts to mislead, hinder or obstruct a Law Society investigator.
The Law Society sought disciplinary orders against Mr Dlakic arising out of conduct in relation to three clients, as well as his conduct in relation to the investigation carried out and report submitted by the Trust Account Investigator employed by the society.
With regard to client one, a breach of the Legal Profession Act and failure to provide a costs disclosure amounted to unprofessional misconduct, the Occupational Division of the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal determined, and a failure to carry out instructions and misappropriation of $1,855 saw a finding of professional misconduct.
Mr Dlakic was further found guilty of professional misconduct for failing to provide a costs disclosure to client two, breaching the relevant legislation by not depositing money into the firm’s trust account as soon as was practicable and misappropriating $30,000.
“We believe that Mr Dlakic’s conduct in relation to [this matter] constituted professional misconduct. This conduct involved a substantial failure to reach or maintain a reasonable standard of competence and diligence. In addition, it would, as a whole, be properly regarded as disgraceful or dishonourable by solicitors of good repute and competency,” the tribunal held.
An additional ground, alleging that he had engaged in legal practice while not holding a practising certificate, was not made out.
In the third client’s matter, he was found to have breached an undertaking, caused a deficiency in the firm’s trust account, misappropriated $50,000 from the firm’s trust ledger account, and breached three sections of the Legal Profession Act.
Individually, the legislative counts would be considered unsatisfactory professional conduct, the tribunal said, but “in light of our finding that they involved dishonesty”, it was determined that Mr Dlakic’s actions amounted to professional misconduct. The former counts were all considered to be professional misconduct.
Further grounds were submitted, following the investigator’s report, of breaches of the Legal Profession Act and an attempt to mislead, hinder or obstruct the routine investigation.
However, while the legislative breaches were made out, involving a “consistent failure to reach or maintain a reasonable standard of competence and diligence”, amounting to professional misconduct, the tribunal held that “we do not believe we can conclude on the balance of probabilities … [that] Mr Dlakic obstructed or misled [the investigator]”.
In considering all grounds, the tribunal examined Mr Dlakic’s health problems, as proffered by at least one psychiatrist and one forensic psychologist.
On multiple occasions, when deducing professional misconduct, the tribunal noted: “We do not accept that Mr Dlakic’s mental health issues justify characterising his conduct any less severely than we have done.”
Submissions concerning protective and costs orders have been requested by 12 October 2018.