Race to trace lawyers defaulting on clients
JOHANNESBURG – THE LEGAL Practice Council (LPC) has seen a significant increase in complaints of attorneys overcharging clients, failure to protect clients' interest, misappropriation of funds, sequestration, touting and bringing the profession into dispute during 2019 and 2020.
This has brought the total of claims submitted to the Legal Practitioners' Fidelity Fund (LPFF) since January 2015 to at least 1 327, which is worth more than R800 million, with 424 active defaulters, according to information sourced from the fund.
The LPFF usually reimburses members of the public when their funds for legal matters are stolen.
Acting executive director at the Law Society of SA (LSSA) Tony Pillay said the LPFF was a fund of last resort so technically the clients needed to report the theft and sue the practitioner and anyone else legally liable.
“If they are unable to trace the practitioner/s, the LPFF steps in. Where the client is facing financial hardship, the client may also approach the LPFF to repay the stolen funds and the LPFF will sue the practitioner/s,” he said.
The LPFF paid out R182.7m for 2019 and more than R92m for 2020.
Claims repaid to clients by the LPFF for administrations, collections, criminal, matrimonial and sequestrations, amounted to more than R1.2m in 2019 and more than R970 000 in 2020, while RAF claims amounted to more than R54.1m in 2019 and more than R29.5m in 2020.
Independent Media's Investigations Unit learnt that in the last two years there has not only been a major increase of theft by attorneys involving clients Road Accident Fund (RAF) payouts but also in other sectors such as property sales, which often results in unscrupulous attorneys fraudulently pocketing millions of rand.
The LPC said more than 100 attorneys across the country had been suspended and struck from the roll for various offences, which include the misappropriation of funds and defrauding clients since the beginning of the year.
Western Cape's Brian Albertus Bauman and Eastern Cape's Mzwandile Bobotyana are among the latest to be struck off the roll for defrauding clients.
In November, Bauman was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment for defrauding his clients of R14.8m in Road Accident Fund (RAF) claims “to entertain his gambling addiction”.
Bobotyana was in October struck off after he allegedly defrauded a businessman out of R2.1m in an illicit house sale.
Bobotyana, who has been charged with fraud and criminality, is yet to plead to the charges as proceedings on his matter are pending.
Yesterday, Jayshree Baijnath of Baijnath and Partners in Chatsworth – who appealed a guilty conviction on a theft conviction and lost – will now go to jail for five years.
Baijnath was convicted for theft amounting to R644 989 in the Durban Regional Court in 2017.
Baijnath initially was sentenced to six years, wholly suspended for five years.
Judge Mahendra Chetty dismissed the appeal in the Pietermaritzburg High Court and said the original sentence imposed by the trial court paid lip service to the seriousness of the offence and jailed her for five years.