Unprofessionals in Law

April 23, 2015

Who needs enemies with friends like these?

Image: Shutterstock


Australian senior solicitor Bernard Kevin O’Donnell has been struck off and ordered to pay costs after taking liberties with a friendship that would have made Brutus wince.

His longtime friend and neighbour, John Martin, was diagnosed with dementia. As a concerned friend, Mr. O’Donnell offered his services as solicitor and trustee.

More than just a distant legal presence, Mr O’Donnell stepped up to the plate admirably – he offered to take Mr Martin on drives, accompanied him to hospital appointments, and was generally a dependable rock for Martin during what must have been a difficult and harrowing time.

Has the tribunal accidentally struck off the new Mother Theresa? Well, not quite.

As it transpired, Mr. O’Donnell was charging a few fees to his friend for his beneficent gestures. Well, that’s not too unreasonable. After all, a man has to eat. He should at least be able to cover his costs. Is there any call for him to do charity purely from the goodness of his –

Oh, what’s that? He charged $720 AUD for calling a locksmith? $750 for a short drive?

That sounds a little steep. Mr. O’Donnell probably thought the same, as he omitted to tell his erstwhile friend he was charging for his minor errands. With access to Mr. Martin’s bank accounts through his trustee status, there was no need to bother his friend about the $42,000 that somehow funnelled its way into his own pockets.

When questioned by the tribunal over his charges, Mr. O’Donnell stumbled into an explanation: “You know, John’s circumstances, he’s certainly quite capable of, you know, affording those sorts of fees that… in the circumstances I don’t see that as extravagant.”

As to where the money had gone to, the tribunal lamented that getting a coherent explanation out of O’Donnell was “impossible.”

O’Donnell continued to deny the charges throughout, and on his being struck off, the tribunal slammed him for having “no remorse, contrition or insight into his conduct.” On the upside, he’ll have plenty more time for long drives from now on. JL

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