Observers of the charade that has played out over the last few years by the Law Society of the Northern Provinces, and the father and son personal injury lawyers Ronald and Darren Bobroff, share the sense of outrage at what appears to be, at best, the turning of a blind eye by the Law Society and, at worst, complicity in what has the hallmarks of a massive fraud by the Bobroffs on their clients, and on the Road Accident Fund (RAF).
Law, we are told repeatedly, is an honourable profession. The Law Society is the custos morum (guardian of morals) of the profession. They want one to believe that they are the ones that will protect the public from the foibles of malevolent attorneys. Can we believe it?
For over two years the Law Society has been in possession of the affidavit of Bernadine van Wyk, a former bookkeeper – turned whistle-blower – who worked at Ronald Bobroff & Partners (RBP). In it, Van Wyk alleges that the Bobroffs have committed theft and fraud, and breached a number of laws such as the Attorneys Act, the Companies Act, the Income Tax Act and the VAT Act.
Ronald Bobroff has done his level best to paint Van Wyk as a disgruntled ex-employee. I might also have felt disgruntled if I were treated in the manner that Van Wyk details in her affidavit. Van Wyk is not alone in her suggestions of wrongdoing. Former clients of the Bobroffs, who are presently in a courtroom battle with them, asked forensic chartered accountant Vincent Faris, who is an acknowledged expert on attorneys bookkeeping, to have a look at a snapshot of RBP’s accounts. He came to the same conclusions as Van Wyk.
Ronald Bobroff has been dismissive of the Faris Report. He has branded the complaint by his former clients as “contrived”, and sourced from a “stolen” ledger account, and has questioned both Vincent Faris’s ability and impartiality.
Where there is smoke there is fire. In this case, where there is smoke there are mirrors. The Law Society is empowered by the Attorneys Act, and equipped with the sinews of war, and can enter any law firm unannounced and carry out a random inspection. They use this power when it pleases them. The LSNP June/July 2014 Newsletter reflects that in the first half of this year it was frequently in the High Court taking action against errant attorneys. It interdicted four from practicing, it suspended ten, and it permanently disbarred seven of its members.
In mid-April the North Gauteng High Court ordered an inspection of RBP’s books of account and of its practice. At the time, Ronald Bobroff told Moneyweb: “RBP welcomes the vindication of it, its Directors and the Law Society of the Northern Provinces, as is evident from the judgment today handed down in North Gauteng High Court.” The Bobroffs then set out to appeal the very judgment that “vindicated” them? They did not appeal all of it, only a part of it. They were unsuccessful, and have threatened to petition the Supreme Court of Appeal. They haven’t even complied with the part that they did not appeal.
Judge Billy Mothle, in dismissing their application for leave to appeal, was scathing, saying that it was, “intended to delay an inspection of RBP books of account and for no other purpose. It is contrived and based on a self serving misinterpretation of my judgment.” An inspection of the Bobroff books would exonerate them – if, of course, they are not guilty.
Moneyweb took the Law Society to task, saying that its President, Llewellyn Curlewis, had previously told Moneyweb that the Order of Court would be implemented forthwith, but that it had done nothing so far. This was apparently because RBP indicated that they indeed intended to petition the Supreme Court of Appeal. No Application for Leave to Appeal has been served on the Law Society. The law about what happens next is clear: Court orders are only suspended if there actually is an application for leave to appeal and not merely on the “say so” of a party who, for example, wants to avoid compliance by saying that they are going to apply, but then doesn’t do so.
Curlewis told Moneyweb, “Ronald Bobroff said that he would not grant the Law Society access to conduct an inspection of his firm’s accounting records, “until the Supreme Court of Appeal has declined such application, any inspection of Ronald Bobroff & Partners’ books is to be held over”. So here we have a classic case of the tail wagging the dog. Curlewis sought our understanding: “it will not be feasible for the Law Society to proceed with an application to Court to compel the Bobroffs to allow the Law Society access to the firm’s accounting records.” Curlewis has a sunnier view of human nature than the rest of us. “There is absolutely no reason to suspect that they will not deliver their Notice to Appeal in terms of the Rules of Court. It is also true that litigants have an ethical duty to be collegial under such circumstances.”
The Bobroffs’ fee regime was declared unlawful in February of this year by the Constitutional Court. There have been several other judgments against the Bobroffs in which judges have been scathing of their conduct. The De Pontes judgment is a case in point. They have been accused of violating Anthony de Pontes’s right to dignity by depriving him of his damages.
The Law Society knows all of this. These matters have received extensive publicity and have been the subject of many emails back and forth between the Law Society’s 24 councillors.
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark: Denmark being a euphemism for the Council of the Law Society of the Northern Provinces.
How shall we solve this problem? The Bobroffs subjected van Wyk to a lie detector test to see if she was the ‘mole’ in the office. He has as recently as last week done so again to RBP staff. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
Moneyweb hereby invites Ronald and Darren to a lie detector test party to be held at our Melrose Arch offices. We will ask the questions and you, dear reader, will be the judge.