A fake solicitor who ran a Gold Coast law firm and was responsible for a $433,000 shortfall in the company’s trust account has been banned from ever managing a Queensland legal practice.
A Supreme Court judge in Brisbane on Friday ordered that Nerise Dawn Moore be permanently disqualified from managing a corporation that is an incorporated legal service under the Legal Profession Act 2007 (Qld) (LPA).
Justice Martin Burns’ decision comes more than 2½ years after Queensland Law Society won a Supreme Court injunction restraining Moore – who was then operating Mudgeeraba law firm Stenton & Moore, from engaging in legal practice or holding herself as a qualified practitioner.
The decision to forever ban Moore was the result of subsequent legal action brought by Queensland’s Legal Services Commission (LSC).
The court was told Moore first appeared as a so-called solicitor when the independent law practice Stenton & Moore ‘sprang up’ at Mudgeeraba on 6 January 2014.
Justice Burns, in an 11-page decision, said: “To the extent that this name was intended to convey the impression that two persons named Stenton and Moore were qualified providers of legal services was, to say the least, misleading.
“Although its legal practitioner director – Mr Graham Stenton – was legally qualified, Ms Moore was not then (or at any subsequent time) admitted to the legal profession in any State or Territory in Australia.
“Nor was she otherwise qualified to run a legal practice or provide legal advice.
“In short, she was never an Australian legal practitioner within the meaning of the LPA or the holder of a practising certificate in any State or Territory of Australia.’’
Despite the lack of any professional legal credentials Moore commenced work in the practice from its inception and held herself out as the company’s ‘Executive Officer’, and remained the firm’s legal practitioner director until 25 May 2018 – when Mr Stenton exited the business.
The LSC submitted that Moore then made two deceitful attempts to install someone as the legal practitioner director of the company in a bid to keep up the necessary statutory appearances and continue in operation as an incorporated legal practice.
Both attempts failed, with one including the appointment of a reputable practitioner between 1 June and 7 August 2018 without his knowledge or consent and the other a solicitor who was ‘duped’ into taking the position between August and December 2018.
Justice Burns said that, after discovering the firm did not have a legal practitioner director, QLS moved swiftly to appoint receivers and undertook a thorough investigation of the affairs of the practice.
On 8 March 2019, Supreme Court Justice David Jackson granted a QLS application for an injunction restraining Moore from engaging in legal practice.
Justice Burns said the subsequent QLS investigation identified “serious trust accounting issues of 11 specific client files” and a deficiency of the $433,690.13 in the moneys held in the firm’s trust account.
Subsequently, 42 clients of Stenton & Moore made claims against the QLS Fidelity Guarantee Fund, resulting in compensation payments of $570,427.13.
“There is no evidence that any person other than Ms Moore was the cause of (or contributed to) the trust account deficiency … and appears to have engaged in serious wrongdoing in relation to an estate,” his Honour said. “Her conduct overall should be regarded as a persistent and brazen fraud on consumers of the services of the legal profession in this State.’’
On 22 April 2020, Moore was fined $5000 after pleading guilty to engaging in legal practice when she was not an Australian legal practitioner contrary to s24 of the LPA. No conviction was recorded.
Justice Burns noted Queensland Police Service was in the process of investigating “the general deficiency in the trust account for the practice” for the potential laying of criminal charges.
In his decision to ban Moore, Justice Burns said: “I am satisfied that disqualifying Ms Moore from managing an incorporated legal practice is justified.
“Moreover, given the nature and seriousness of Ms Moore’s conduct, the real likelihood that she might engage in similar conduct in the future, the likely harm that may be caused to consumers of legal services as well as creditors if she does, and the absence of any evidence to suggest to the contrary, her disqualification should be permanent.”
Moore did not participate in proceedings against her and failed to appear for the hearing of the application on various days last month (October 2021).
Read the decision.