Lawyer faces de-registration over misconduct

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HARARE lawyer Tererai Hillary Gunje is facing de-registration after being convicted of professional misconduct before a Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal sitting at the High Court.

The Law Society of Zimbabwe was seeking the de-registration of Gunje as a legal practitioner, notary public and conveyancer, citing unprofessional, detestable and unworthy conduct.

He Law counts are failure to account to clients within a reasonable time after executing clients’ instructions; failure to preserve the client’s best interest; failure to account for trust funds; and failure to respond to correspondence sent from the lawyers governing body.

The case involved the purchase of a property in Bluff Hill by Mrs Letwina Warinda-Ndanga and her husband Happy Ndanga.

Gunje’s law firm, Gunje and Chasakara Law Firm, were appointed the conveyancers for the sellers.

In terms of the sale agreement, the purchase price was to be paid into his trust account. The parties to the agreement of sale, further instructed Gunje to settle the electricity charges outstanding on the property upon registration of the transfer to the Ndanga couple.

The lawyer accepted the instruction and wrote to the Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company in December 2012 notifying the power company of the sale of the property and undertook to clear arrears on the account upon transfer from funds held in trust.

Gunje further requested ZETDC to assist the Ndanga couple to open a new account. The couple settled the purchase prices in October 2012, and after protracted delays, the transfer into their names was in April 2014.

However, despite undertaking to settle the sellers’ electricity account with the power utility from funds held in a trust fund, for that purpose, Gunje failed to do so.

Despite several email reminders and demands sent to Gunje by the couple from June 2014 to September 2014, Gunje ignored the instructions and failed to settle the ZETDC debt.

This resulted in the Ndanga couple being subjected to deductions of 20 percent each time they made electricity purchases. The deducted money went towards settling the sellers’ debt at the power supplying company.

This also resulted in the Ndanga couple suing the sellers for the payment of the electricity debt.

Based on the evidence shown by the couple and Gunje’s concession that he failed to settle the sellers’ electricity account upon transfer of the property to the couple and anytime thereafter, the tribunal found Gunje’s defence couched as bare statements which were not supported by any documentation or bank statements that could prove his case.

“So he did not represent the sellers with competence and diligence”, said Justice Esther Muremba, the tribunal chair, in the judgment.

“On this basis we are satisfied that the respondent (Gunje) acted incompetently by failing to take reasonable steps to protect the sellers best interest by failing to extinguish the debt until they were sued by the purchasers on January 6 2015.”

The tribunal also found that the sellers had transferred US$1 415 to Gunje’s trust account, which the parties had agreed would be paid to ZETDC upon completion of transfer.

Justice Muremba ruled that the lawyer failed to fulfil his obligation and, therefore, it was clear that he converted the money to his own use and found him guilty of unprofessional, dishonourable or unworthy conduct in terms of the provisions of the Legal Practitioners Act.

The fact that the Law Society took Gunje’s kind of conduct seriously and pursued disciplinary charges was an important act toward recognising the irreparable harm that was done to both clients, and sent a clear message that such behaviour is not to be tolerated.