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DPP, lawyers, in court over legal advice

The director of prosecutions, with three other lawyers, is in court defending himself against a former client, who is attempting to sue them for legal advice they gave 18 years ago.

user iconOlivia Collings 24 July 2009 The Bar
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The director of prosecutions, with three other lawyers, is in court defending himself against a former client, who is suing them for legal advice they gave him 18 years ago. 

The former client is seeking nearly $3 million in damages from Tasmanian director of public prosecutions, Tim Ellis, and the three lawyers over legal advice given in the early 1990s.


Ellis and his former colleagues at the time worked at Clarke and Gee lawyers, reports The Mercury.

Ellis has denied wrongdoing by himself or the firm and was twice told by the judge to stick to answering questions, during yesterday’s court proceedings. 

"Mr Ellis, please, no backchat with counsel. I'm sure you've heard that many times before," Justice Holt said. 

"I should have written it on my hand, I apologise," he replied. 

The case hinges on a single phone call made between Clark and Gee lawyer, Bruce Doolan, and his client Renkon partner Suzanne Rees,18 years ago. 

Rees is suing the lawyers over what they claim was bad legal advice regarding Launceston's Tudor Motor Inn. 

Renkon signed agreements to take over the Tudor Motor Inn in June 1989. In May 1991, Rees rang Doolan to ask him whether she could avoid carrying out a list of repairs to the premises required by licensing authorities. 

Doolan told  Rees she was obliged to do the work under the terms of the lease, but did not say the company could get out of the lease via a loophole which became available a few weeks later. 

The company eventually found out it had grounds to surrender the lease and receive a payout. 

But it was too late to do so successfully and it subsequently lost both the lease and a lawsuit against the landlords. 

"I gave her the advice that she sought - that she was obliged to carry out the obligations under the lease," Doolan told the court.  

The Renkon file was then passed to Ellis, who became DPP in 1999. Ellis said Rees had never expressed dissatisfaction with the law firm. 

He said Doolan's response to Rees' phone call had been an appropriate answer. "We're lawyers, it's our job to be precise," he said. 

In closing arguments, Clarke and Gee's barrister Ken Procter SC said Rees sought advice on how to get out of the repairs and was given that advice. 

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