Lawyer's fees leave couple destitute
A lawyer has been found guilty of negligence, incompetence, misconduct and overcharging which left clients depressed and without a home.
Eion Castles was found guilty of five charges by the Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal relating to the way he overcharged clients, breached their confidentiality and did not act in their best interests.
Castles charged the complainants more than $1 million between 2005 and 2008 for acting for them in three cases. He charged between $350 and $390 an hour.
The complainants were not named in the decision and were referred to only as Mr and Mrs W.
The case stems from High Court proceedings involving a leaky home they had bought. Those proceedings, filed by different lawyers, were filed with the couple as the plaintiff rather than their trust.
This error led to the Ws seeking a new lawyer, the tribunal said.
Castles and Mr W were golf buddies and Castles offered to take on the Ws' cases.
The Ws said Castles did not tell them Castles' hourly rate at their first meeting. Castles said he did.
The Ws said they placed themselves "entirely" in Castles' hands and they had "total faith in him". Castles was aware of this, the tribunal said.
Evidence by cost-assessors showed the total legal costs to the couple should not have exceeded $462,000.
The tribunal said there had been "grossly excessive overcharging".
The legal costs rendered the complainants "virtually destitute", the tribunal said.
The Ws were forced to sell their house and free up other assets to pay the outstanding fees, the tribunal said in its decision.
Over a period of 28 months after selling their home October 2006 the couple endured a series of 27 house-sitting moves, living out of suitcases and supermarket shopping bags with no certainty of future accommodation, the tribunal said.
The couple also paid $600 a month in storage costs for their possessions.
Both were depressed and on medication.
The tribunal said Castles' fees were "outrageous" considering the work carried out did not appear to be of a sufficient complexity or "unusual nature" to warrant retaining independent counsel of Castles' seniority.
Expert witnesses said the proceedings were "pointless and hugely expensive".
Castles did not tell the complainants that continuing with the proceedings would be uneconomic for them, the tribunal said.
While the complainants did receive $655,000 in settlement from one of the proceedings it did not cover their costs, the tribunal said.
Castles also disclosed confidential information about the Ws' financial and mental states to Mrs W's brother-in-law.
Castles failed in his professional obligations to act professionally and in the clients' best interests, the tribunal said.