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Former solicitor refused anonymity in QCAT professional misconduct proceeding

A former solicitor found to have in engaged professional misconduct has been denied a request to have her identity suppressed.

Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal President Martin Daubney AM, in a decision published on Monday, found that Michelle Cherie Harrington had engaged in professional misconduct in relation to five occasions over several years.

Justice Daubney noted that some of Ms Harrington’s professional misconduct related to management of the trust account of her firm, Harrington Legal.

“(One) charge alleges a failure of competence and diligence with respect to the management of (the firm’s) trust account,” Justice Daubney said.

“On 6 February 2017, the QLS (Queensland Law Society) issued a report in relation to Harrington Legal’s trust account for the period 10 September 2015 to 31 December 2016.

“The report indicated eleven instances or areas of activity in which the trust account had not been properly maintained during the period 10 September 2015 to 31 December 2016. That conduct ranged from instances of failures to issue trust account receipts in a timely fashion, to failures to conduct proper trust account reconciliations.

“Then, on 31 October 2017, the QLS issued another report in relation to the firm’s trust account. This was for the period 24 January 2017 to 26 September 2017. The report indicated seven areas in which the trust account had not been properly maintained.

“On 15 and 16 May 2018, the QLS conducted an inspection of the firm’s trust records and performed a reconciliation for the period 28 September 2017 to 30 April 2018. The purpose of the inspection was to verify whether the matters previously reported on had been rectified.

“The investigator was unable to form an opinion in relation to some areas due to the law firm’s failure to provide requested material, including a number of files, invoices, trust account authorities and costs agreements. This failure to provide requested material was a contravention of s544(4) of the LPA (Legal Profession Act).

“Despite the investigator’s limited ability to form an opinion in relation to a number of areas as a consequence of the failure to provide material, the investigator concluded that there were still some ten instances of failure to maintain the trust account in accordance with the legislative provisions and good accounting practices.”

The tribunal was told Harrington had not practised as a lawyer since QLS cancelled her practising certificate on 14 March 2019.

Justice Daubney noted: “In her response to the discipline application (by Queensland’s Legal Services Commission), the respondent (Ms Harrington) says that she has no intention of returning to legal practice.”

The tribunal made findings that Ms Harrington had engaged in professional misconduct on five occasions, and unsatisfactory professional conduct.

Justice Daubney also noted Ms Harrington had asked the tribunal to make an order to supress publication of her matter.

“(Ms Harrington) asked the tribunal make a non-publication order,” he said. “The only basis for making that request is a concern that (Ms Harrington’s) past health issues may have an impact on her present employment if published publicly.

“That concern is not, however, sufficient to warrant making a non-publication order under s66 of the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 2009 (Qld).

“And in any event, there is a clear public interest in the circumstances of (Ms Harrington’s) contraventions, and the orders to be made by this tribunal, being publicly available.”

Read the decision.

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