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Lawyer in hot water over group email

A lawyer has been fined, reprimanded and ordered to undertake a domestic and family violence course after he group-emailed sensitive information about a proceeding.

In May last year, the Legal Services Commissioner (LSC) charged “PRF” under the Legal Profession Act 2007 (Qld) with failing to maintain reasonable standards of competence and diligence in the conduct of a 2020 matter relating to an application for a protection order against his daughter (“KLK”), who was also his client.

PRF had sent an email to 20 recipients, identified as friends and colleagues, after the application for the order by his daughter’s ex-husband (“MDK”) had been withdrawn.

The email and its attachments, which PRF had labelled “spare time reading”,  disclosed the identity of a party and a child involved in the proceedings, breaching the Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act 2012 (QLD), and the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth).

In the decision published by the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal on Monday, Justice Brown found PRF had engaged in unsatisfactory professional conduct by sending the email.

“Most concerningly, in addition to having revealed that his daughter and her ex-husband were parties to a domestic violence proceeding and family law proceeding, the respondent also attached an affidavit by KLK and the submissions he had prepared for the hearing and which he had sought to rely on to strike out MDK’s domestic violence application,” they stated.

“Those documents revealed sensitive personal matters in relation to MDK and matters relating to MDK and KLK’s children. While the domestic violence proceedings had come to an end by that stage, that disclosure showed a significant lack of professional judgment in revealing such content and in not investigating whether such disclosure was permissible under the relevant legislation.

“Although sent as a personal email, the respondent used his work email and identified himself as a solicitor with his professional details in the sign-off.”

MDK made a complaint to the LSC after he was informed of the contents of the email by a recipient.

At the time of the offending, the lawyer, who was admitted in 2001, held an unrestricted principal practising certificate and was director of a law firm.

In deciding on a penalty, Justice Brown considered a range of factors, including no previous disciplinary history for PRF; the distress and anxiety caused to MDK; steps taken by PRF to address the conduct; and remorse and insight shown by PRF.

They ordered that PRF’s conduct amounted to unsatisfactory professional conduct, that he be publicly reprimanded (using pseudonyms), that he be fined $1500, that he undertake an LSC-nominated domestic and family violence education course, and that he pay the LSC’s costs.

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