17 Feb 2014

Lawyer 'cowardly' filing for bankruptcy

6:57 pm on 17 February 2014

An overcharging lawyer struck off after inflating a fee by almost $500,000 has been branded "cowardly" for declaring bankruptcy.

Eoin Castles was found guilty of five charges, including misconduct and incompetence.

Castles charged a couple, known as Mr and Mrs W, more than $1 million when the work he did for them was actually worth about $462,000. They had to sell their house to pay the $1 million bill.

At a penalty hearing on Monday of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal, which Castles did not attend, he was struck off and ordered to pay back $482,000.

The tribunal was told that even if he was ordered to pay back the money, the couple would never see it.

The Law Society brought the charges and its counsel John Katz said Castles had indicated he had filed for bankruptcy on 14 February.

In asking where all the money had gone, Mr Katz pointed out that Castles recently spent a month travelling and the only appropriate penalty was to strike him off.

One of Mr and Mrs W's friends, who was at the hearing but didn't want to be named, criticised the lawyer's decision to surrender his practising licence early and to file for bankruptcy.

"That was a cowardly thing too, because that eliminates him from paying any money now and in three years' time he'll be able to be a free man again. As I say, very unfair."

The original charges against Eion Castles say he billed Mr and Mrs W $1,031,224 in total but this figure includes a fee for some work done but not paid for.

The tribunal also chose to discount some work done before a law change in August 2008 for which the fee was small in comparison, to make the process smoother.

Those deductions leave the total fees charged at $943,721, even though a fair level of costs was assessed to be $462,000.

Law Society president Chris Moore says people who are struck off can reapply for registration, but in this case an application is unlikely to succeed.