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The issue of George Prime

Attorney George Prime – given a 6-month suspension from practicing law

“…It is ordered and declared as follows:

(1) The attorney-at-law’s conduct amounts to serious professional misconduct.

(2) The attorney-at-law, George W. Prime, is hereby suspended from the Roll of attorneys-at-law for a period of Six (6) months from today’s date.

(3) The Registrar of the court shall make the appropriate alteration to the Roll of attorneys-at-law and publish the appropriate notice in the Gazette in accordance with section 30 (1) of the LPA.”

This was the ruling of two High Court Judges who presided over a Disciplinary Hearing case brought against former Magistrate George Prime who is now into private practice as an attorney-at-law.

The George Prime issue arose from a dispute involving another of his countrymen from the sister isle of Carriacou, Wellington Joseph on monies derived from the sale of a property.

Following is the ruling on George Prime by Justices Raulston Glasgow and Agnes Actie:-

[1] GLASGOW, J. and ACTIE, J.: This tribunal has been constituted further to a referral made by General Legal Council (GLC) pursuant to that body’s powers under section 37(2) of the Legal Professions Act, Cap 167A (the LPA). The referral touches and concerns complaints made by the complainant, Mr. Wellington Joseph (Mr. Joseph) against the attorney at law, Mr. George W. Prime (Mr. Prime).

[2] Section 37(2) of the LPA reads–

“Powers of Council

  1. (1) If the Council, after hearing an application under this Part, is not satisfied that the al-legations made against the attorney-at-law to whom theapplication relates constitutes professional misconduct, the Council shall dismiss the application.

(2) If the Council, after hearing an application under this Part, is satisfied that the allegations made against the attorney-at-law to whom the application relates have been established, and that the conduct alleged against him constitutes professional misconduct, as the case may be, the Council may—

(a) where it is of the opinion that a case has been made out which justifies punishment more severe than may be imposed by the Council, such as removal from the Roll, the Council shall forward to the Supreme Court, in accordance with section 82 of the West Indies Associated States Supreme Court (Grenada) Act, Chapter 336, a copy of the proceedings before it and its findings thereon;

(b) suspend the Practising Certificate of the attorney-at-law to whom the application relates;

(c) reprimand the attorney-at-law to whom the application relates; or

(d) make such order as to costs as it thinks fit, and in addition, except where the application is dismissed under subsection (1), the Council may or-der the attorney-at-law to pay the applicant or person aggrieved, such sum by way of compensation and reimbursement, and such further sums in respect of expenses incidental to the hearing of the ap-plication and consideration of the matter, as it thinks fit.

(3) Any two judges of the Supreme Court may, upon hearing an application made by the Council under this Part, order the suspension of an attorney-at-law or have the name of an attorney-at-law struck off the Roll.”

[3] Section 82 of the of the West Indies Associated States Supreme Court (Grenada) Act, Chapter 336 in turn reads –

“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.”

Background
[4] The evidence discloses that Mr. Joseph and Mr. Prime have known each other for quite some time. They both hail from the island of Carriacou. The two parties first entered into an attorney at law/client relationship during the year 2015 when Mr. Joseph retained Mr. Prime’s services as an attorney at law. The services entailed the administration of the estate of Mr. Joseph’s deceased mother, Mrs. Leonora Mathurine. By virtue of a written agreement, Mr. Prime was engaged to prepare letters of administration for the deceased’s estate and thereafter, the necessary vesting deed(s).

[5] A few years later, in May 2017, Mr. Joseph further retained Mr. Prime’s services in respect of the sale of property on the island of Carriacou. The sale was successfully completed in November 2017 and Mr. Prime, or his office held the sum of EC$123,106.88 (USD45,522.12) on behalf of Mr. Jospeh with instructions to forward the same to Mr. Jospeh immediately. Mr. Joseph says that he personally provided Mr. Prime with the details of his banking information for the transfer of the funds to his bank account held at KeyBank National Association, New York. Mr. Joseph explained at the Tribunal hearing that he also provided Mr. Prime with the necessary swift code details to facilitate the transfer of his funds held by Mr. Prime.

[6] The funds were not transferred as instructed. Several emails and enquiries then ensued between Mr. Joseph and Mr. Prime or his office. On 23rd January 2018, Mr. Prime’s secretary, in an email to Mr. Jospeh expressed her own dismay at the delay when she observed –

“Dear Mr. Joseph,

I do apologize for what is happening, it is out of my control. I passed on the message to Mr. Prime and I do hope that this transaction is completed soon…”

[7] On 5th February 2018, Mr. Prime eventually sent Mr. Joseph the sum of USD 18,383.33 which was a part of the money due to him. The sum was credited to Mr. Jospeh’s new bank account details at Citibank since Mr. Prime in January 2018 stated that attempts made to send the funds through the KeyBank National Association account previously sent were unsuccessful. A balance of USD18,912.20 (ECD51,382.56) was then due and owing to Mr. Joseph.

[8] Thereafter no funds were remitted to Mr. Jospeh. Mr. Jospeh outlines several visits, calls and WhatsApp messages to Mr. Prime regarding the balance due to him. There were no satisfactory responses to Mr. Jospeh’s entreaties for his money and as such he filed a complaint with the GLC on 25th day of June 2018.

[9] The matter came before the GLC on 11th August 2021. It is noteworthy that at the date of the GLC’s disciplinary proceedings, Mr. Jospeh was still not in receipt of the balance of his funds. After hearing from Mr. Prime and Mr. Joseph the GLC made the following ruling-

  1. “There is no dispute between the Parties that from November 2017, when the sale of the Applicant’s property was completed and closed that monies paid to the Attorney-at-law for the benefit of the Applicant were then immediately due. Yet, some 31/2 years later a substantial sum, US$18,912.20/EC$51,382.56 remains unpaid and due to the Applicant. As to why the sum remains unpaid, the Attorney-at-law’s reasons can be summarized as: (i) he was dealing with Mr. Adams, the holder of a power of attorney from the Applicant and so he was waiting to settle the account as it related to other work with Mr. Adams before paying over any remaining money due to the Applicant; and (ii) he was the victim of two burglaries, one at his Carriacou chambers and a second at his St. George’s chambers and where from his main computer was stolen together with other electronic items. He admits to there being hard copies of notes and communication on a hard file at Carriacou and in fact in conducting his investigation as to the amount of money due, he referred to the hard copies of the notes on file.
  2. The Council on consideration of the matter is of the view that firstly, it was inappropriate that the payment of the Applicant’s money was split into two payments without authority from the Applicant. Secondly, no excuse was tendered to the Applicant either orally or in writing for the delay in making payment and this was despite there being both types of communication between the Parties. In fact, the lack of excuse is supported by the email of Zinzai. Thirdly, even in regard to the reason tendered for the delay of the first partial payment i.e. problematic bank transfer information, the Applicant provided at 6t’ January 2018, another bank’s transfer information and it was approximately 30 days later, i.e. 5’h February 2018, that the first partial payment was made. No excuse was tendered as to why it took 30 days between receiving the second bank’s (Chase) information and the transfer of US$18,383.33. Fourthly, while the Council sympathizes with the Attorney-at-law on the matter of the burglaries, and indeed which can be an unsettling experience, the burglaries were at 2018, and yet three years later there was still no payment made. Fifthly, even if the Council were to accept that the Attorney-at-law believed that Mr. Adams was acting under the power of attorney in relation to all of the Applicant’s matters, Mr. Adams’ position as the Applicant’s attorney simply could not “trump” that of the Applicant who gave him that power of attorney and who moreover started to communicate directly with the Attorney- at-law and staff orally by way of telephone calls, whatsapp messages and emails with his request for payment as early as 23rd January 2018.
  3. The Council is of the view that the Attorney-at-law’s delay which has now reached in excess of 31/2 years, in paying the Applicant his money, is an extreme and inordinate delay. This delay is inexcusable and unacceptable. The reasons given by the Attorney — at-law at 31/2 years hold no weight. The Council then notes that even on admission of the money being due, the Attorney-at- law in his affidavit deposes that he will pay the money due within 7 days of the outcome of the hearing. This is indeed a most curious position to hold when at all times, he admits there was money due to the Applicant. The Council’s role is not to settle whether the Attorney-at-law owed the Applicant or not, that would be a matter for a court. The Council’s examination is solely to find whether or not there has been professional misconduct in the manner in which the Attorney-at-law carried out the Applicant’s instructions. From that may flow an order similar to that made by a court. The Code of Ethics rules cited are clear.
  4. The Council, having heard the application, is satisfied that the allegations made against the Attorney-at-Law have been established, and that the conduct alleged against him constitutes professional misconduct.
  5. The Council, upon considering the nature of the Attorney-at-Law’s professional misconduct, was tasked to consider whether the sole sanction available to it at this time, being the issuance of a reprimand, was reasonably proportionate. An examination of section 37(2) of the Legal Profession Act 2011 (as amended) highlights the Council’s limited disciplinary powers currently, in the absence of Practising Certificates issued to Attorneys-at-Law. The Council, being of the view that the Attorney-at-Law’s professional misconduct, in this instance, warrants a more severe sanction than can be imposed by it at this time, has decided to forward its findings and a copy of these proceedings to the Supreme Court pursuant to section 37(2)(a) of the Legal Profession Act, 2011,to exercise any of its powers under section 82 of the West Indies Supreme Court (Grenada) Act, should it deem such exercise of its powers appropriate in the circumstances.”
  6. At our hearing today we note that Mr. Prime did transfer the balance of the funds to Mr. Joseph on 12th August 2021, a day after the GLC hearing.”
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[10] The Tribunal at a case management hearing held on 6th December 2023, directed the parties to file and exchange affidavits, submissions, and authorities. Mr. Prime filed an affidavit dated 10th January 2024 along with submissions and authorities on even date. Without rehashing Mr. Prime’s evidence and submissions, the long and short of his case is that the referral is not properly before this Tribunal because –

(1) The GLC, in its conduct of the disciplinary proceedings, engendered in him a legitimate expectation that his paying Mr. Jospeh the balance before the requested 7 days would have satisfactorily disposed of Mr. Joseph’s complaint against him.

(2) The GLC, in coming to its decision, ignored a relevant consideration in that it failed to take account of the fact that, by the date of its decision, Mr. Prime had already paid the sums due. The failure to consider this relevant matter, Mr. Prime posits, renders the GLC’s decision, ultra vires, null and void.

[11] Notwithstanding the fact that he had not filed further evidence, submissions and authorities as directed on 6th December 2023, Mr. Joseph, who was unrepresented by counsel was given an opportunity to address the tribunal at today’s hearing. Mr. Joseph in his oral submissions to the Tribunal, rehashed many of his complaints made at the GLC hearing and recited above in these proceedings. Significantly though he makes the point that the balance of his funds received from Mr. Prime on 12th August 2021 was sent to the same KeyBank National Association account that he had given to Mr. Prime in November 2018. This is the very account to which Mr. Prime had previously indicated that he could not send the funds because of possible errors or other challenges. Yet three and a half (3 ½) years later, there was no difficulty sending the funds to that same account.

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