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Female attorney-at-law struck off the roll

Victoria Charles-Clarke – was one of two high court judges who sat on the case that brought an end to the legal career of the local attorney-at-law

For the first time in over 40 years, a Grenadian attorney-at-law has been disbarred from practicing in the profession for professional misconduct.

High court judges, Justices Raulston L.A. Glasgow and Victoria Charles-Clarke ordered that 71-year old female attorney, Brenda Wardally-Beaumont’s name be struck off the court’s roll after finding her guilty of professional misconduct in the discharge of her duties.

The attorney was hauled before the court after she failed to return the sum of EC$304,419.99 which she held in trust for her client, Joel Ganpot arising from a divorce proceeding.

The case against Wardally-Beaumont was brought to court by attorney-at-law, Alban John who was up against Dr. Francis Alexis, KC and Winnifred Duncan-Phillip who were representing their colleague defendant.

“The Registrar of the High Court shall effect the appropriate changes to the court’s roll of attorneys-at-law and shall cause the requisite notices to be published in the Official Gazette,” the ruling stated.

The Wardally-Beaumont episode started in April 1999, when the female attorney was retained by Ganpot to represent him in matrimonial proceedings involving his wife.

In April 2005, Wardally-Beaumont received the sum of $304,419.99 on Ganpot’s behalf, which represented monies he was entitled to as part of the settlement of the ancillary relief proceedings and never handed it over to him.

As a public service, THE NEW TODAY has decided to reproduce an edited version of the decision handed down by Justice Glasgow and Charles-Clarke that resulted in the female attorney being disbarred from practicing law in the country:-

DECISION
GLASGOW, J. and CHARLES-CLARKE, J.: These proceedings concern whether there is reasonable cause to discipline Brenda Wardally-Beaumont, (Ms. Beaumont), attorney-at-law, pursuant to section 82 of the West Indies Associated States Supreme Court (Grenada) Act hereinafter (“the Supreme Court Act”).

Background
Ms. Beaumont is an attorney-at-law who practices before the Supreme Court of Grenada. In or about April 1999, Ms. Beaumont, represented Mr. Joel Ganpot in matrimonial proceedings . As part of ancillary relief proceedings brought further to the matrimonial proceedings, Mr. Ganpot was ordered to transfer his interest in the matrimonial home at True Blue in the parish of Saint George to his former wife, Mrs. Lester Ganpot. The house was valued in the sum of $304,419.99.

In April 2005, Ms. Beaumont, as attorney for Mr. Ganpot, received the sum of $304,419.99 on his behalf which represented monies he was entitled to as part of the settlement of the ancillary relief proceedings. Between the period June 2006 and June 2007, Mr. Ganpot caused letters to be sent to Ms. Beaumont demanding payment of the settlement sum. However, Ms. Beaumont failed to pay the settlement sum as demanded.

On 5th June 2007, approximately two years after Ms. Beaumont received the above monies, Mr. Ganpot filed a claim against Ms. Beaumont seeking payment of the sum of $304,419.99 together with interest and costs. On 13th July 2007, judgment in default of defence was entered for Mr. Ganpot against Ms. Beaumont in the sum of $308,248.69. Thereafter, Ms. Beaumont applied to set aside the default judgment. On 3rd October 2007, Master Cheryl Mathurin refused the application to set aside the default judgment and awarded Mr. Ganpot $600.00 in costs.

Between the period 4th October 2007 and January 2009, Ms. Beaumont made sporadic payments towards the judgement debt. On 13th January 2009, a consent order was entered before Cumberbatch J. His Lordship ordered that: “[t]he Defendant is to pay the sum of $10,000.00 every quarter until judgment in the sum of $300,971.11 together with all costs awarded to the Claimant and interest at 6% per annum is paid in full, commencing the 30th day of April 2009”.

On 19th March 2014, Mr. Ganpot applied to the court for an order of contempt against Ms. Beaumont and for the determination of whether Ms. Beaumont ought to be suspended from the practice of law or whether she ought to be struck off from the court’s roll as an attorney-at-law. The application was heard before Wallbank J in December 2014. In his written judgment dated 26th January 2015, Wallbank J ordered, among other things, that

  1. The whole conduct of the Defendant relating to this matter shall be considered by a disciplinary tribunal comprising at least two judges of the Supreme Court for the purpose of determining whether the Defendant shall be suspended from practicing for a specified period or be struck off from the Roll, pursuant to section 82 of the West Indies Associated States Supreme Court (Grenada) Act, Cap 336.
  2. There shall be established such a disciplinary tribunal by the Registrar, in consultation with the Judicial and Legal Services Commission…”

A tribunal comprising two judges was appointed by the Honourable Dame Janice Pereira, Chief Justice and Chairman of the Judicial and Legal Services Commission to consider the matters referred by Wallbank J in his judgment. To date, the entire judgment debt inclusive of interest has not been satisfied by Ms. Beaumont.

Evidence
By order of the tribunal dated 27th October 2021 Mr. Ganpot and Ms. Beaumont were directed, among other things, to file affidavit evidence in these proceedings and to file and exchange written submissions.

On 14th January 2022, Rolda Clifford, tendered affidavit evidence on behalf of Mr. Ganpot wherein she avers that –

(1)  She is the sister of Mr. Ganpot.

(2) Mr. Ganpot was previously represented by Ms. Beaumont in matrimonial proceedings. Ms. Beaumont received the sum of $304,419.99 on his behalf as his share of the former matrimonial property;

(3) The entire sum of $304,419.99 was misappropriated by Ms. Beaumont and applied for her own purpose;

(4) In July 2007, default judgment was entered against Ms. Beaumont for the sum of $308,248.69 in relation to the monies counsel received on behalf of Mr. Ganpot.;

(5) In February 2009, by virtue of a consent order, Ms. Beaumont was ordered to pay quarterly sums of $10,000.00 towards the judgment debt. However, to date, Ms. Beaumont has only paid the sum of $205,573.00 inclusive of interest, leaving a balance of $332,790.63;

(6)Notwithstanding the above, Ms. Beaumont has breached further orders of the court, including an order made by Mohammed J on 26th February 2013 ordering Ms. Beaumont to pay the sum of $104,000.00 being arrears on the judgment debt by monthly instalments of $2,000.00 in addition to the order to pay $10,000.00 every quarter pursuant to the consent order. Ms. Beaumont has not complied with those orders of the court;

(7) By application filed on 19th March 2014, Mr. Ganpot applied to the court for consideration of the issue of whether Ms. Beaumont should be suspended from practice or struck off the court’s roll. Wallbank J in his judgment dated 26th January 2015 ordered, among things, that Ms. Beaumont’s conduct be considered by a disciplinary tribunal;

(8) In or about the month of April 2016, Ms. Beaumont acquired 3 acres of land situate at Claboney Estate, Saint Andrew for the purchase price of $28,000.00 which is evidenced by a conveyance dated 21st April 2016 between Joyle Urias Taylor and Ms. Beaumont. On 13th May 2016, Ms. Beaumont conveyed that property by way of gift to Lorna Marcelle and Kimberly Nathaniel (both minors), holding a life interest in the property;

(9)  In April 2020, Ms. Beaumont executed a supplemental deed of gift of the property. In that supplemental deed, the name Lorna Marcelle was removed as grantee and substituted with the names of Kathlyn Williams and Briggetta Baker, who are children of Ms. Beaumont, as grantees;

(10) Thereafter, Ms. Beaumont built a house on the property and currently resides there;

(11) Ms. Beaumont has not shown or expressed any contrition for misappropriating the monies belonging to Mr. Ganpot;

(12) In the circumstances, she is of the view that Ms. Beaumont ought to be struck off the court’s roll or at the very least suspended for a period of no less than five years.

Ms. Beaumont, in her affidavit filed on 14th January 2022, deposes that:

(1) She is attorney-at-law and is 71 years of age.

(2) She represented Mr. Ganpot, in her professional capacity, in a matrimonial matter. Her firm received a sum of money as settlement in his ancillary matter on behalf of Mr. Ganpot;

(3) She finds herself in a position where is she unable to hand over the amount she received despite Mr. Ganpot’s demand since she discovered that the majority of the money she deposited into her client’s account is not there;

(4) With respect to the deposit of the money, she did not personally deposit the money into her client’s account at Republic Bank. She says that it was the responsibility of one Patricia Cadore Charles, (Ms. Charles), who was, at the time, the office administrator in her firm, to deposit monies into the client’s account and to distribute monies to clients;

(5) When she made inquiries into her client’s account she discovered that the balance was insufficient to make the payment to Mr. Ganpot and as a result she decided to trace where the funds went. She avers that this was not the first occasion that client’s money went missing from her office;

(6) She recalls that on a previous occasion she obtained a loan for $30,000.00 to cover a deficit when a similar situation occurred. On this occasion the amount was larger. She accepts that all cheques cleared from her client’s account included her signature;

(7) She accepts that she is fully responsible for her client’s monies and that the responsibility cannot be delegated. Therefore, she agreed to pay Mr. Ganpot the outstanding sum by way of quarterly payments of $10,000.00;

(8) In May 2009, she suffered a brain aneurism and was admitted to St. George Hospital in London, England on 12th June, 2009;

(9) Whenever she travelled abroad she left signed open cheques and blank signed letterheads, forms and other documents in Ms. Charles’ custody;

(10) Upon her return to Grenada she discovered that Ms. Charles used monies not related to the firm;

11. In April 2010, she resumed payments to Mr. Ganpot, however, she claims that business was slow. Thereafter, Ms. Charles left her law firm to migrate to the United States of America. Upon Ms. Charles’ departure from the firm, she discovered further discrepancies in the finances of the firm and claims that Ms. Charles was collecting monies from clients which were never deposited into the clients’ account;

12. She received an outstanding payment in a matter and decided to purchase property which she describes as “mountain land” for $28,000.00. Thereafter, she built a home on the property and began residing there on 31st December 2016;

i. To date, she has paid Mr. Ganpot the sum of $206,773.30 and gives an assurance that she will pay the debt owing to him;

ii.At the hearing, Ms. Beaumont tendered evidence that she paid the sum of $46,000.00 in March 2022 and $17,000.00 on 23rd April, 2022;

iii.  She has paid a high price for her error and denies personally profiting from any of Mr. Ganpot’s funds. Therefore, she urges the tribunal not to disbar her from the legal profession.

Legal Submissions
Mr. Ganpot’s submissions

Mr. Alban John, counsel for Mr. Ganpot, filed written submissions on 17th February, 2022 and 5th September, 2022. Mr. John submits that attorneys-at-law are officers of the court by virtue of section 81(1) of the Supreme Court Act. Therefore, the court is enjoined to enquire into the conduct of its officers. The court, he says, also as an inherent power to adjudicate on the conduct of its officers and to discipline attorneys at-law pursuant to section 40 of the Legal Profession Act.

[11] With respect to the duties of an attorney-at-law, Mr. John relies on section 2(2) of the Code of Ethics of the Legal Profession Act which imposes a duty on an attorney – at – law“to maintain his integrity and the honour and dignity of the legal profession and of his own standing as a member of it…and to refrain from conduct which is detrimental to the profession, or which may discredit it.” Further, Mr. John refers the tribunal to section 20(2) of the Code of Ethics which states that “[a]n attorney-at-law shall always act in the best interest of his client…and…to obtain for him the benefit of any and every remedy…” Additionally, counsel refers the tribunal to sections 54(1), 64, 81, 82(1) and 84 of the Code of Ethics which concern the duties of attorneys with respect to finances and professional conduct. Counsel submits that as a matter of law, the courts have consistently treated misappropriation of client’s funds as egregious conduct warranting dire sanctions. Such conduct, Mr. John continues, betrays the very oath taken by the attorney and brings the profession into disrepute.

Mr. John also makes reference to the case of Re Clarke, where the court opined that the seriousness of the attorney’s conduct must be reflected in the sanction imposed. Simmons CJ stated at paragraph 43 of the judgment that –

“Secondly, this court has an inescapable duty to protect the public interest. The public must not be led to believe that misappropriation of clients’ funds and failure to honour

“Secondly, this court has an inescapable duty to protect the public interest. The public must not be led to believe that misappropriation of clients’ funds and failure to honour promises to repay are matters to be tolerated. In paying due regard to the public interest, it is important that punishment be appropriate and proportionate. In our view, the protection of the public requires a penalty whose objectives include specific and general deterrence and whose imposition gives an assurance to the public that certain misconduct by attorneys at law will be met with appropriate sanctions. Mr Clarke’s misconduct seems to us to be altogether more serious than the misconduct in the cases cited by Ms Brathwaite and warrants a more severe penalty.”

In respect of the standard of proof in these proceedings, Mr. John submits that it is a criminal standard of proof and that proof must be beyond a reasonable doubt. Counsel accepts that the burden of proof rests on Mr. Ganpot to prove the alleged infractions in this case. Mr. Ganpot insists that Ms. Beaumont did misappropriate the settlement funds that she received on his behalf. Having regard to the provisions of the Code and the Legal Profession Act, Mr. Ganpot’s case is that this misappropriation constitutes fraudulent breach of trust and professional misconduct. It only remains, counsel says, for the tribunal to determine the level of sanction which ought to be imposed on Ms. Beaumont.

Ms. Beaumont’s submissions
Counsel for Ms. Beaumont, Ms. Winnifred Duncan Phillip, argues that the main issue in this case is whether Ms. Beaumont’s conduct warrants disciplinary action by the tribunal and if so, what sanction should be imposed. Counsel concedes that Ms. Beaumont’s inability to repay Mr. Ganpot when called upon to do so, attracts rules 81 and 84 of the Code of Ethics which state:

“Rule 81:
In pecuniary matters, an attorney-at-law shall be most punctual and diligent; and shall never mingle funds of others with his own, and he shall at all times be able to refund money he holds for others.”

“And rule 84:
A breach by an attorney-at-law of any of the provisions contained in this Part, shall constitute professional misconduct, and an attorney-at-law who commits such a breach, is liable to any of the penalties which the Council, the Court, or both are empowered to impose.”

It is Ms. Beaumont’s case that her former office administrator one Patricia Cadore Charles was the sole person authorised by her to deposit and distribute monies to clients. Ms. Beaumont stated that after she made enquiries to trace the missing monies, she concluded that someone in the bank was pilfering her funds. Ms. Beaumont avers that over the years there have been many discrepancies with respect to the firm’s finances.

She admits that “I know that I am responsible for Client’s monies and any failure cannot be delegated . “I know that this situation is my fault”. Further, Ms. Beaumont claims that she became ill sometime in May 2009 and was unable to consistently meet the payments toward the judgment debt.

Discussion and analysis
The court’s power to discipline lawyers

It is well-established under the common law that judges have the jurisdiction to supervise and control the conduct of attorneys at law which jurisdiction includes the power to discipline attorneys for breaches of their duties and responsibilities as officers of the court.

In Grenada, the courts’ common law powers to regulate the conduct of lawyers and specifically discipline them for the breaches of their duties have been codified under statute by virtue of section 82 of the Supreme Court Act which states-

Barristers and solicitors may be suspended or struck-off the roll. Any two Judges of the High Court may, for reasonable cause, suspend any barrister or solicitor from practising in Grenada during any specified period, or may order his or her name to be struck-off the Court Roll.”

Section 82 of the Supreme Court Act prescribes that any two judges of the High Court are empowered to form a disciplinary tribunal to determine whether there is reasonable cause to discipline an attorney. Although the provisions of the Supreme Court Act are silent on how that discretion must be exercised, section 82 is premised on there being “reasonable cause” to discipline the attorney. Further, the tribunal notes that the Supreme Court Act does not speak to procedures to initiate and conduct disciplinary proceedings pursuant to section 82 of the Supreme Court Act as is the case in some ECSC jurisdictions such as St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The tribunal is of the view that Grenada ought to expedite the process of enacting procedural rules to govern the section 82 process. Notwithstanding the absence of procedural rules the common law jurisdiction of the courts to discipline lawyers may be invoked by a judge, acting on his or her own initiative or on information that has come to the judge’s attention or further to the referral from another judge.

The legislature of Grenada has also enacted laws in respect of the matters related to the legal practitioners. The Legal Profession Act, Cap. 167A of the laws of Grenada (the Act) states in its short title that it is enacted “…to provide for the regulation of the legal profession, for the qualification, enrolment and discipline of its members…”. That Act encodes its own prescriptions and processes for the discipline of legal practitioners, among other matters. See Part V of that Act and in particular sections 33 to 39 for the rules that govern the professional conduct of attorneys at law and the procedures to initiate and conduct disciplinary proceedings for breaches of the rules of appropriate conduct. In section 40 of the Act, however, the legislature acknowledges and recites the aforestated common law jurisdiction of the court to discipline its officers which power, as we have stated above, is now codified in section 82 of the Supreme Court Act. Section 40 of the Legal Profession Act states the following-

“Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, the jurisdiction, power and authority vested in any Court immediately before the commencement of this

Act—

(a) by the common law, with respect to the discipline of; or

(b) by any written law, to deal with contempt of court committed by, barristers, solicitors or attorneys-at-law, shall continue to be exercisable after the commencement of this Act.” (Our emphasis)

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