NSW solicitor struck off after dozens of breaches
A solicitor has been struck off the roll and fined $10,000 after conceding his guilt to 67 complaints brought against him by the Council of the Law Society of NSW.
Luke Jerome Adamson received the orders against him after the Civil and Administrative Tribunal of NSW found he had engaged in professional misconduct from 2008 to 2014.
Based on documentary evidence tendered in the proceedings, Mr Adamson was admitted as a solicitor on 30 June 1994, and had practised as the principal of a law firm since 2003. His practising certificate was suspended in 2013 by the Law Society of NSW, and a manager appointed to the practice he was conducting.
Mr Adamson conceded his guilt for a total of 67 complaints that had been brought against him, with the tribunal noting that the Law Society of NSW “had filed a great deal of documentation substantiating all of the allegations made against the respondent”.
Eighteen of the complaints described misappropriation from Mr Adamson’s trust account totalling $2,025,134.32.
Ten complaints were made regarding breach of section 254 of the Legal Profession Act 2004 (NSW), which prescribes that certain trust money is to be deposited in a general trust account.
A further 13 complaints of a breach of section 255 of the act were recorded against the holding, disbursing and accounting for trust money, while 11 complaints referred to complaints against section 260 of the act, which relates to the intermixing of trust money with other money.
Ten complaints were also made about the breaching of section 264 of the act, which requires a law practice to keep “trust records in relation to trust money received by the practice” in permanent form.
Other complaints concerned a breach of rule 12 of the Revised Professional Conduct and Practice Rules 1995 by inappropriately borrowing money totalling $200,000 from a client, that the respondent had misled “two persons by falsely declaring that certain trust monies were held in investments on behalf of a client”, and that “the respondent had twice misled a barrister retained by him that monies were held in trust on account of his fees and would be paid to him”.
A further complaint concerned “a breach by the respondent of an order made by the Supreme Court of NSW on 1 July 2013 inter alia forbidding him from disposing of any property without leave of the court”, the tribunal noted.
In summarising Mr Adamson’s actions, the tribunal said, “It is sufficient to describe the respondent’s conduct as involving many instances of deliberate fraudulent behaviour in accepting monies from clients which by law were to be held by him in his trust account on their behalf or to be expended as properly authorised in accordance with instructions, and utilising those monies for his own benefit contrary to law and without instructions.”
“The respondent’s behaviour can only be described as fraudulently dishonest, egregious and disgraceful,” the judgment continued, and “there can be no doubt that this behaviour is unworthy of a legal practitioner, and that the respondent’s conduct involving many clients and large sums of money has brought the reputation and integrity of the legal profession into question”.
The tribunal noted the filing of an instrument of consent in November last year, which asked that the tribunal find “that by reason of matters particularised in an Agreed Statement of Facts that the respondent was guilty of professional misconduct” and that “protective orders be made removing him from the roll of solicitors and ordering him to pay the applicant’s costs”.
The tribunal was “not prepared to make orders in those terms because they did not adequately reflect the misconduct of the respondent”.
An application was also made by Mr Adamson for certain non-publication orders, one of which was for Mr Adamson himself, with that particular request refused by the tribunal.
The tribunal also rejected an application to suppress the name of Mr Adamson’s former law firm from being published, as there was “no reason why any non-publication order should be made with respect to the name of the respondent’s former law firm, especially as it bore his name”.
In making its decision, the tribunal explained “there can be no doubt that by reason of the matters that we have described, the respondent is guilty of professional misconduct”.
“The respondent has consistently breached over a substantial period of time the statutory provisions which regulated his legal practice, and in particular the manner in which he was required to handle clients’ monies to his own personal advantage,” the judgment read.
“He has misrepresented the position concerning the holding of trust moneys and has blatantly breached an order of the Supreme Court of NSW.
“We have no hesitation in finding the respondent guilty of professional misconduct.”