The SA Legal Practice Council’s attempt to have a candidate attorney’s name struck from the roll – for misconduct – was unsuccessful at the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) while the finalisation of the attorney’s disciplinary inquiry is still pending.
The matter was dismissed and struck from the court roll due to it being moot.
The disciplinary inquiry against attorney Lebohang Mokhele had established prima facie evidence of trust fund shortages in Mokhele’s trust account following complaints from the public.
Investigations by the Legal Practice Council (LPC) so far have established alleged serious misconduct and evidence of a trust shortage in at least two matters. Investigations continue.
Mokhele has been suspended from legal practice, and the LPC sought from the Free State Division of the High Court, Bloemfontein, to have his name struck from the roll as a legal practitioner.
The high court, however, dismissed the application and ordered the LPC to first finalise its disciplinary hearing against Mokhele.
The LPC was granted an order by the high court, in which Mokhele was suspended from the roll of legal practitioners, pending an application for his name to be struck from the roll.
The striking-off application has been heard and judgment is awaited.
The SCA was critical of the conduct of Mokhele and his legal representative in that the heads of argument were not filed, the legal representative arrived late at court and made incomprehensible submissions, and there were allegations of death threats by Mokhele towards complainants.
The SCA placed emphasis on the need for adhering to proper legal procedure and condemned unprofessional conduct by legal practitioners and their instructed representatives.
In judgment, SCA Judge Caroline Nicholls said: “Undoubtedly, this is a matter of importance for the LPC and the public at large. However, the issues for determination have the potential to engage the interests of other parties who are not before this court. For example, parties in the legal profession, and even the Minister of Justice, may want to express views on S 43 ...
The correct procedure would be for the LPC to bring an application in the high court for the appropriate relief, with all interested parties cited,” said Nicholls.
In respect of Mokhele’s conduct, Nicholls said: “Unfortunately, mention must be made of Mokhele’s conduct and that of his legal representative.
Mokhele did not file any heads of argument prior to the hearing of the matter in terms of the rules of this court.
“At the commencement of the hearing in this court, counsel for the LPC informed the court that heads of argument, together with an application for condonation, were served on behalf of Mokhele the day before. But Mokhele did not make an appearance.
“About 30 minutes after the proceedings started, a legal practitioner purporting to act for Mokhele arrived at court. He had no explanation for his lateness and the failure to file heads of argument ... He sought to make incomprehensible submissions and proceeded to request that a costs order be granted against the LPC because the appeal was an abuse of the process of court.
“Another serious allegation against Mokhele was that the high court, in its judgment, referred to death threats complainants had received from Mokhele. It also noted that he had been less than candid with the court. This conduct ill befits an officer of court and must be strongly deprecated.”
Enquiries to Mokhele and the LPC had not been answered by deadline on Sunday.