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Solicitor struck off over misappropriated funds

A former Brisbane solicitor has been struck off for professional misconduct involving the alleged misappropriation of money, including money from a deceased estate, for her personal use.

Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal President Martin Daubney AM, in a decision published on Friday, ordered that Alison Margaret Hartvigsen be removed from Queensland’s roll of legal practitioners.

Justice Daubney, in an ex tempore decision on 31 August, granted an application by Queensland’s Legal Services Commission that Hartvigsen be struck off after finding she had engaged in 10 counts of professional misconduct.

The charges included one of dishonestly applying $8995 to her own use, one of dishonest or reckless conduct relating to a client’s retainer, three of dishonestly dispersing $119,632.44 from her firm’s trust account to its general account and five of breaching s443(3) of the Legal Profession Act (LPA).

The section LPA of the act states: “If the practitioner fails to comply with the requirement, the entity may give the practitioner written notice that, if the failure continues for a further 14 days after the notice is given, the practitioner may be dealt with for professional misconduct.”

Justice Daubney said in his findings: “The charges which have been established concerning dishonest conduct by (Hartvigsen), particularly in terms of the misappropriation of client money, warrant findings that (she) engaged in professional misconduct.

“There can be no argument to the contrary on such a finding.

“In relation to the (Hartvigsen’s) failures to respond to formal requests for information, this Tribunal has repeatedly emphasised the need for practitioners to understand that it is a fundamental obligation to engage appropriately with the profession’s regulators. A failure to do so is a serious matter.

“The other element in this case is that (Hartvigen’s) conduct was marked by repetition and persistence in failing properly to engage with the professional regulator.”

The tribunal was told Hartvigsen did not respond or place any material before QCAT on the grounds of claiming privilege against self-incrimination.

QLS Proctor understands the allegations detailed against Hartvigsen have been referred to the Queensland Police Service.

In recommending Hartvigsen be struck-off, Justice Daubney said: “In terms of sanction, there is little that needs to be said.

“Honesty and trustworthiness are central to the life of every legal practitioner. Those qualities are particularly relevant to the trust placed by clients in practitioners to properly deal with moneys entrusted to the care of legal practitioners.

“In this case, the material demonstrates that (Hartvigsen) engaged in repeated acts of dishonesty whereby she simply misappropriated money which had been entrusted to her for use in connection with her client’s transactions or, in one case, which had been received as part of a deceased estate, and applied that money to her own use.

“Hartvigsen, as already noted, has not put on any material and has claimed privilege against self-incrimination. (She) is perfectly entitled to adopt that approach to dealing with the matter.

“One of the consequences of that, however, is that there is no material before the Tribunal to indicate any insight, remorse, or rehabilitation on (her) part.

“There is, therefore, no basis for the Tribunal to think other than that this practitioner is likely to be permanently unfit for practice. In those circumstances, (Hartvigsen) should be struck off.”

Read the decision.

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