Personal injury lawyers Ronald and Darren Bobroff abused their knowledge of court procedures to effectively prevent the court from examining their alleged misconduct.
This was one of the key reasons a full bench at the Pretoria High Court handed down as to why the father and son duo, two directors of Ronald Bobroff and Partners (RBP), were struck off the Roll of Attorneys in December last year. The reasons were only released on Tuesday.
The judges were scathing and said: “Endorsing this type of behaviour by officers of the court would bring the legal profession into disrepute.”
The Bobroffs fled South Africa in March of last year for Sydney, Australia, when the Hawks requested that the two hand themselves over to be arrested and bailed. They face charges of theft, fraud, forgery, kidnapping, money laundering and exchange control contraventions. The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) is in the process of preparing an extradition application.
Matthew and Jennifer Graham
The striking off, and this week’s judgment, follows a five-year legal battle by Matthew and Jennifer Graham to bring the Bobroffs to book. Matthew was the victim of a 2006 road accident and his wife Jennifer had retained RBP to handle his claim against the Road Accident Fund (RAF). Following their settlement, they sued RBP for overcharging them – a case they won.
Judge Nicolene Janse van Nieuwenhuizen wrote the judgment with which Judge Natu Ranchod concurred. Their damning finding that the Bobroffs used their knowledge of legal processes to delay the case was highlighted, with the duo’s application a day prior to the December 6 hearing where they were struck from the roll.
On this day, the Bobroffs launched an application for a postponement saying – among other things – that they were never formally informed that the Law Society of the Northern Provinces (LSNP) applied for their names to be struck from the Roll of Attorneys, and that the Deputy Judge President of Pretoria, Aubrey Ledwaba’s enrolment of the matter for hearing, was not “competent”.
They also applied for a postponement so that RBP’s financial position could be scrutinised by a forensic accountant.
The judges considered the Bobroffs contention that the application had not been formally served on them in Australia. When the matter was argued in court, Judge Van Nieuwenhuizen put it to the Bobroffs counsel that the purpose of service (in terms of the court rules) was to give notice to a party concerning impending legal proceedings.
According to the Bobroffs, they had attempted since May last year to persuade many attorneys to represent them against the LSNP but had no success in doing so. They told the court that they didn’t want to name the attorneys “in order not to embarrass them”.
The judges noted that they found it, “astounding that the Bobroffs profess on one hand that they had no knowledge of the [striking-off] application… whilst on the other hand they had sought legal representation… as long ago as May 2016,” and that “their conduct points to only one conclusion: the Bobroffs intentionally avoided being formally served with the application.”
The judges were similarly dismissive of the postponement application to have the accounts of RBP forensically audited, saying that the Bobroffs, “were acutely aware from at least 2011 that RBP’s accounting system was the subject of serious scrutiny”. Furthermore, the Bobroffs had not taken issue with, “a single transaction relating to their alleged misconduct”. The Bobroffs did not file any answer to the detailed charges that were before the court. Because of this their striking off was granted by default and is therefore not appealable.
The judges conclude their judgment by stating: “It is manifestly in the interest of the public to have attorneys, who abuse their position by misappropriating large sums of money due to their clients, struck from the Roll of Attorneys.”
In response Lutendo Sigogo, president of the LSNP, welcomed the judgment and said that it was important that the matter had finally been concluded.
The Grahams’ attorney, George van Niekerk, told Moneyweb: “The judgment of the full bench is a stinging indictment of the Bobroffs callous misconduct. They have dishonoured the profession and they have disgraced themselves. We look forward to the day when they will eventually face justice in this country, and experience first-hand the full wrath of the criminal justice system.”
The Bobroffs failed to respond to Moneyweb’s request for comment.
Read the judgment here.
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