Lawyer fined $25,000 and ordered to pay $75,000 to Legal services Commissioner
The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal has fined lawyer Victoria Nomikos of A’Beckett lawyers $25,000 and ordered her to pay $75,000 to the Legal Services Commissioner after the Commissioner raised concerns about her conduct relating to debt collection. Legal Services Commissioner, Michael McGarvie, said that by handing over a letterhead template and allowing a debt collection agency to write a payment demand on it without vetting every letter, Ms Nomikos had fallen short of what is expected of a lawyer.
The ruling comes just eight months after the Legal Services Commissioner was successful in his action against Ms Pippa Sampson, of law firm Goddard Elliot, in a case which also centred around debt collection practices.
Consumer Action believes that this legal outcome should serve as a reminder to all lawyers involved in collecting consumer debts that they have professional obligations which prohibit misleading or intimidating statements.
The Legal Services Commission’s media release on the matter is published in full below:
Thursday 13 March
Large fine, reprimand for debt collection lawyer’s conduct
VCAT today fined Melbourne lawyer Victoria Nomikos $25,000 and reprimanded her for to supervise the use of her law firm stationery.
In September 2013 Ms Nomikos had been found guilty on eight counts of professional misconduct after she allowed two debt collection agencies to use her business letterhead to send misleading letters of demand to debtors.
Legal Services Commissioner, Mr McGarvie, said that handing over a letterhead template and allowing a debt collection agency to write a payment demand on it without vetting every letter fell short of what is expected of a lawyer.
‘This was a clear breach of the strict ethical and professional responsibilities lawyers must abide by,’ Mr McGarvie said.
‘There is a very important lesson for all lawyers here; it is crucial that direct control over letterhead and stationery be maintained at all times, and that consumers are never mislead about who is behind a demand for payment’.
VCAT also found that Ms Nomikos had allowed the debt collection agencies to improperly lodge proceedings against debtors in the Magistrates’ Court using her solicitor’s credentials.
In her decision, Member Wentworth of VCAT said ‘The public is entitled to be protected from misleading demands made in a solicitor’s name by a debt collection agency’.
Ms Nomikos was also ordered to pay $75,000 of the Commissioner’s costs. Ms Nomikos has made an undertaking that she would not permit her business name, law firm stationery or her firm’s details to be used by debt collection or mercantile agencies in the future.
The initial VCAT finding can be found here: http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/sinodisp/au/cases/vic/VCAT/2013/1682.html. The proceedings brought by the Legal Services Commissioner were the result of a number of complaints about the conduct of Ms Nomikos, including one made by a Consumer Action lawyer relating to a debt for private secondary school fees.