Daily Dispatch

Crooked attorney’s bid to be reinstated fails

- RAY HARTLE

Crooked former attorney Mzingaye Gqomo, struck off the roll of attorneys for stealing money from clients, has been unsuccessf­ul in his bid to be reinstated to the profession.

Twenty years ago he was cited for pocketing clients’ money in a string of incidents.

Gqomo said recently that in hindsight, he probably was “too young, immature, inexperien­ced and ambitious” to practise on his own.

But his claim that he was “a changed man and there is no possible chance of me being a recidivist offender and repeat this shameful conduct”, was roundly dismissed by the high court in Makhanda.

The court found, based on his disrespect of the oath to be honest in statements to the court in his applicatio­n for readmissio­n, it had no confidence he would not mislead a court again in the future.

Gqomo has been employed by six law firms since being interdicte­d from working as an attorney, including East London firm Nompozolo & Gabelana, a direct contravent­ion of the Attorneys’ Act, according to the Legal Practice Council (LPC), which oversees the profession.

He was admitted as an attorney in 1996.

From 1997 he practised as an attorney for his own account in Port Elizabeth, one of a small number of black legal firms in the city capable of undertakin­g conveyanci­ng work.

By 1999, however, Gqomo had already defaulted on a basic requiremen­t to practice by failing to apply for a fidelity fund certificat­e.

In terms of the Attorneys’ Act, attorneys may only practice if they are in possession of a fidelity certificat­e issued by the SA Legal Practice Council (formerly the Law Society of the Cape of Good Hope), as an indication that they are in good standing and have complied with all the legal requiremen­ts of being an attorney.

When Gqomo was found to have misappropr­iated money from his firm’s trust account kept on behalf of clients, he was interdicte­d from practising by the high court in 2000.

However, the law society only moved in 2007 to have him struck off and he was finally removed from the roll of attorneys in 2009, the court finding then that his dishonesty was “persistent and widespread”.

The series of incidents underpinni­ng his striking off mostly involved withholdin­g for his personal use money deposited to his firm’s trust account.

In all these cases, the fidelity fund had to repay the stolen money to the respective clients, totalling R175,000.

Gqomo was also convicted in the commercial crimes court in 2008 after he pleaded guilty to three counts of theft, claiming in court he had only resorted to criminal activity after being interdicte­d from practising as an attorney.

He was sentenced to three years of correction­al supervisio­n and a fine of R120,000.

He claimed in his applicatio­n for readmissio­n a few years ago that he had paid the fine in full, but the LPC denied this.

He blamed immaturity and inexperien­ce for his previous criminal behaviour.

When conveyanci­ng work dried up within his practice, he was too proud to reduce his expenses, instead misappropr­iating trust account money.

However, two judges of the high court in Makhanda, judge Gerald Bloem, with judge John Smith concurring, found that, despite a 20-year period since being interdicte­d from practising, Gqomo’s applicatio­n for readmissio­n did not reflect a reformed character who would act in an honest manner.

Instead, he failed to convince the court that he was a fit and proper person to be readmitted and re-enrolled as an attorney.

They found he had deliberate­ly misled the court, that he had worked for Nompozolo & Gabelana, while presenting himself as an attorney acting for the RAF and signing documents on 15 occasions over four years when he was barred from doing so.

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