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Corrupt attorneys - Allegations mount against lawyers

Published:Sunday | January 10, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Barbara Gayle, Staff Reporter

THE LEGAL profession was once placed on a pedestal because of the honesty and integrity of its members.

But in recent years, there has been a significant increase in the number of allegations levelled against some attorneys-at-law for professional misconduct.

Last year, four lawyers were disbarred by the disciplinary committee of the General Legal Council (GLC).

The GLC has the power under the Legal Profession Act to regulate the conduct of attorneys-at-law and the general environ-ment for the practice of law.

"Yes, there is an increase in the complaints to the General Legal Council because members of the public are more aware of their rights these days," a senior lawyer who served as a member of the GLC's disciplinary committee told The Sunday Gleaner.

Ethics of the profession

The lawyer, who requested anonymity, explained that some of the complaints were baseless, but those which went to trial before the committee were those in which the evidence should be heard.

"The disciplinary committee, in carrying out its mandate, does make efforts to see that the ethics of the profession are upheld and also ensure that lawyers are protected," the attorney said.

According to the lawyer, misappropriation of clients' funds was the most grave allegation to be made against a lawyer.

Well-known attorney-at-law Antonnette Haughton-Cardenas was one of the lawyers disbarred last year.

The GLC's disciplinary com-mittee had a hearing and found that she defrauded a client of $2.3 million in a real-estate transaction. Haughton-Cardenas, 54, was admitted to the Bar in 1979.

In October 2008, the Court of Appeal upheld a ruling by the disciplinary committee that attorney-at-law Jonathan Vernon Ricketts should be disbarred.

In 2006, the disciplinary committee struck Ricketts off the roll of attorneys-at-law because of professional misconduct.

Several calls

Ricketts' clients, Frederick and Madge Morris, complained that in 2003, he was paid $2 million to effect the transfer of nine lots of land in Westmoreland to purchasers.

They said they made several calls and visits to Ricketts' office but the transfers were not done. The disciplinary com-mittee had a hearing and found that Ricketts had failed to provide the couple with information as to the progress of their business and did not deal with the matter expeditiously.

The disciplinary committee in October 2008 struck off attorney-at-law Georgette Scott from the roll of attorneys entitled to practise in Jamaica.

A complaint was made against her that she misappropriated $750,000, which she had collected for a client in a land transaction. She was ordered to make restitution. Scott appealed, but the Court of Appeal dismissed her appeal in July last year.

barbara.gayle@gleanerjm.com