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Bobroff – Law Society, quo vadis?

The M-net program Carte Blanche brought the full impact of the Bobroff-saga to the fore during Sunday night’s broadcast. Attorney Ronald Bobroff and his son Darren have been suspended from practice by the Gauteng Division of the High Court following allegations of widespread fraud and money laundering. The firm was also placed under curatorship amidst the Bobroffs allegedly fleeing the country to Australia – allegedly fugitives, because they claim to merely be on vacation.

The whole saga has brought the attorneys profession in serious disrepute. Members of the public are complaining. One hears it everywhere, not the least on social media where there is a new wave of insults leveled against the legal profession. The public is justifiably upset for two reasons. Firstly, if proven to be true, this may be one of the biggest frauds in monetary terms in the history of our profession. Secondly, it took the Law Society of the Northern Provinces close to 5 years to deal with a seemingly legitimate public complaint and it is not the end of the matter yet – an application for the Bobroffs striking off the roll of attorneys is still pending in the High Court.

What is most troublesome is the fact the Mr Ronald Bobroff was a former President of the Law Society. The Law Society needs to explain why it took 5 years to deal with this matter. Many attorneys have experienced swift action by the Law Society when complaints are lodged about often trifling matters. We annually receive harsh threats from the Society to lodge our audit reports on time. No exceptions allowed. Attorneys are swiftly dragged before disciplinary committees for minor complaints. Whilst normal everyday law abiding attorneys were grappling with simple ethical rules such as the size of their branding and lodging of their audit reports, the former President of their Society was allegedly busy with major transgressions.

For those that did not follow the saga : it began in June 2011 when a complaint of a certain mr and mrs Graham was lodged with the Society against Bobroff by attorney George van Niekerk of the firm ENSafrica. It is alleged that the Bobroffs overinflated their accounts in respect of road accident clients to the tune of R170million. An investigating auditor also found various other alleged irregularities.The exact amount has still to be determined. From 2011 up to April 2016 the matter was characterized by one delay, extension and postponement after the other. The whole history is outlined in court papers in various applications seeking orders against the Bobroffs. Attorney van Niekerk, on behalf of the Grahams, initially launched an application to seek an order that the Court take over the disciplinary inquiry of the Society. They were unhappy with the way the Society was dealing with the matter. The Law Society opposed the latter application but eventually also applied for relief against the Bobroffs. All these applications culminated in the suspension of the Bobroffs from practice by an order of the High Court on 26 April 2016. The full judgment is available here.

When reading the papers one gets the uneasy impression that attorney van Niekerk and his clients, as well as other complainants had to prompt the Law Society at various intervals over a long period to expedite the process. It is also evident that the Law Society did not appreciate the intervention of attorney van Niekerk on behalf of his clients. The reasons for that are irrelevant to this article. In the court papers the Law Society explains the workload it has to deal with regarding complaints, the lengthy process it entails and all the obstacles in the way of accelerating the process. Whilst one must admit not having first hand knowledge of the facts and the process and assuming that there may be valid explanations for the long lapse of time – one is left utterly amazed merely by the time it has taken a Professional Statutory Institution to protect the public against alleged fraud of such magnitude.

The Society may argue that it could do no better under the particular circumstances – well then it must immediately revisit the whole system, because it’s just not good enough. What it is then saying is, “transgress the rules as you like…it will take us 5 years to track you down”.

The Law Society urgently needs to appoint an independent committee to investigate its dealings with this matter and to make recommendations regarding disciplinary procedures where money is involved. It is in the interest of justice as well as in the public interest. This matter cannot be ignored. We deserve better.

 

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Bobroff – Law Society, quo vadis?