Thank goodness for Justice Marty Moynihan (seen here) who single-handedly is doing so much to clean up aggressive, derisive, and abusive language in the legal caper.
First with Lord Eldon whose sarcastic and belittling verbal flourishes at the Bundaberg Hospital inquiry misfired sufficiently to have Marty eject him from his job.
Now with it’s the crude tongue of Mick “Rhino” Baker from the famous Brisbane law shop of Baker Johnson that has come in for special clean-up attention.
If there’s one thing Queenslanders admire, it’s polite language. So the fact that Rhino runs a good chance of having his ticket withdrawn after Marty’s findings of professional misconduct and unprofessional conduct can only be greeted with relief by the good burghers of Brisvegas.
Sitting in the new Queensland Bureau de Spank Moynihan J found that Rhino Baker had indulged in the following fruity moments:
- While dictating a note to his secretary in the presence of a client, Russell Sheppard, the respondent said to the secretary: “I can’t deal with ******* morons. Get out of my office.” Later, to the client he added the following endearment: “You’re an absolute moron to have signed the contract without knowing what you were doing.”
- In a telephone conversation with Sheppard, the respondent said: “The whole thing has got out of hand. A lot of bullshit is going in with this contract.”
- On or about August 7, 2002 Sheppard attended at the firm’s offices at the Gold Coast. While he was sitting in the reception area the respondent approached him and said: “What the **** are you doing here?” Sheppard: “I am here to see Julie Somerville.” Baker: “You don’t have the right to waste our ****ing time. I have spent enough ****ing time on the ***ing file. You are a ****ing moron. If you had signed the ****ing contract properly in the first place, we wouldn’t be in the ****ing mess. **** off out of my reception area.”
Moynihan also found that Rhino had used vulgar, abusive, derogatory and demeaning language to his staff but thought it better not repeat the exact phrases in the family-friendly version of his judgment.
The judge said that it was inconceivable that Baker’s behaviour towards either his staff or a client could ever be regarded as acceptable by a solicitor and that it was bound to bring the profession into disrepute.
Rhino’s response to the suggestion that his language might be considered a bit ripe shows what an understanding sort of cove he is:
“I also accept that some of my personal conduct (that is, in the use of vulgar speech) caused offence to some staff and clients. I accept that conduct of that kind did not exhibit the highest standards of professional conduct. I accept that some practitioners (including obviously those on the [law society] council who resolved to bring that charge) regard conduct of that kind as unprofessional conduct, which might be sufficiently serious to justify the attention of this tribunal. Although I do not share that view, I understand it.”
When the QLS first wrote to Rhino about his language his solicitors replied saying that if the complaint proceeded staff at Baker Johnson would be called to give evidence that Rhino was “a passionate and colourful person” and a man of “basic tastes … given frequently to coarse behaviour” but nevertheless he was held “in great affection” by his staff.
Moynihan J quietly observed: “No such evidence was called.”
Rhino’s solicitors told the QLS that Baker (seen here) was consulting a psychologist about anger management and that he had a senior solicitor give lectures to the Baker Johnson people about workplace behaviour. Instances of intimidation, discrimination and other unacceptable conduct were to be reported to Rhino himself.
As the judgment says, “Following these efforts there was said to be a noticeable reduction in his language”.
Rhino’s solicitors apparently told the QLS’ stipes that the really fruity stuff was only ever ventilated in Rhino’s office when the door was closed.
This is not the first time that closed doors have had an important application for Baker. Readers might recall the confusion that occurred when Mr Rhino found out that the former Mrs Rhino had been consulting their joint marriage counsellor, Mr Pershouse, in his office at a time when “the blinds were drawn and the room locked”. This delicate matter was the subject of an earlier report.
In any event, none of this impressed the judge who found that Baker lacked any sort of real insight as to the inappropriateness of his behaviour and that his conduct, including his reluctance to accept its implications, constituted a high degree of unprofessional conduct.
Apart from problems with his vocabulary, Moynihan found Rhino Baker was guilty of professional misconduct for dishonestly and wrongfully charging a number of no win/no fee customers in circumstances where no fee was properly payable.
The judgment is 42 pages long, but the following morsel is sufficient to give the flavour of BJ’s charging practices:
“A memo dated June 24, 2001 by a costs assessor retained by the firm to prepare the bill addressed to the practitioner said: ‘Could you please look at the two files prior to issuing proceedings on them – half the correspondence is missing in the property damage file and I don’t know whether we will get away with the client agreement or half the work was done if she decides to engage a lawyer to look at the bill.”
“In an internal memo addressed to the practitioner dated July 11, 2001, Alexander, a solicitor employed by the firm, comments on the costs assessor’s concerns saying: ‘She’s probably right on the property damage file. We will get screwed if we attempt to get that sort of money out of our client. We have no client agreement. There is also very little by way of correspondence except telling her to go somewhere else.”
Penalty is yet to be determined by the Bureau de Spank but on the basis of the findings it would surprise if the Rhino might not soon become extinct.
Sir Terence O’Rort reporting