A Brisbane lawyer’s career hangs in the balance after he failed to observe an undertaking he gave to a tribunal, then gave false information to the legal regulator about the failure.
Corey Wayne Cullen was yesterday cross-examined in the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) by counsel for the Legal Services Commissioner (LSC), which is seeking to have Mr Cullen struck off.
In October 2020, Mr Cullen had given an undertaking to QCAT in proceedings against him by the LSC, which related to his 2019 conviction for possession of dangerous drugs. The conviction arose from an incident at security at the Magistrates Court in Brisbane, where following an appearance for a client, Mr Cullen dropped a clip-seal bag containing 1.46g of cocaine.
QCAT had found Mr Cullen had engaged in unsatisfactory conduct and ordered he be publicly reprimanded upon the undertaking that:
“At the time applies for renewal of his practising certificate in 2021 and 2022, he undertakes to provide supporting documentary evidence that he has, as from 30 October 2020:
(a) maintained ongoing counselling at least quarterly with a registered psychologist or psychiatrist; and
(b) has provided urine samples clear of unlawful drugs on at least a quarterly basis through a pathology practice.”
Yesterday barrister Roman Micairan, representing the LSC, argued Mr Cullen had become permanently unfit to practise as a solicitor due to his failure to heed the advice of a counsellor and to provide all required urinalysis results, and then providing Queensland Law Society (QLS) with false representations about these failures when applying to renew his practising certificate.
Mr Micairan said there were serious concerns about the integrity of the explanation for non-compliance given by Mr Cullen in sworn affidavits. He said the respondent’s version of events contained “improbabilities, inconsistencies and revisionism”.
He pointed out Mr Cullen had been able to provide urine samples for other purposes during the relevant period, and had had several exchanges with QLS during which he could have requested an adjustment to the undertaking.
Mr Cullen admitted he had provided false information to QLS, especially in relation to seeking hair follicle testing after failing to have the required urine tests, and in attributing the failure to Christmas and COVID-19 closures of testing facilities.
He said he “did not provide a full explanation of my situation at the time”.
“I was not trying to be misleading. I panicked and responded very poorly,” he said.
Barrister Greg Rice KC, representing Mr Cullen, said if the object of the sanction was to encourage drug abstinence, then Mr Cullen had met the object for which the undertaking had been made, with about 18 negative tests returned over the past four years.
Mr Rice also pointed out Mr Cullen had been issued a practising certificate in each of the three years since the offending and his practice had been conducted incident free over that period. He added Cullen Lawyers had closed two of its three offices with a view to reducing stress on Mr Cullen.
After hearing from both parties, Justice Burns determined that in the interest of fairness, he would assess the breach, publish his findings in relation to it, and at that time, give the parties the opportunity to make further submissions on an appropriate sanction.