By California Injury Attorneys Ehline Law Firm PC – In California, the rule is the contingency fees are set by contract. I am not a South African attorney, but this is a really interesting case I wanted to discuss with my California audience about a South African case. A former client of two lawyers has filed an application to have the lawyers stricken off the roll. In California, this would be a request to disbar a lawyer, or take away their license to practice law. The attorneys are identified as Ronald Bobroff and his son Darren, who the former client believes overcharged her.
Attorneys Cashing Checks Made Out to Victims
The application contains allegations that are damaging to Bobroff and his son, claiming that they were possibly cashing checks made out to roadway accident victims. They allegedly were not recording their legal fees they charged and committing income and value-added tax (VAT) infringements.
Bobroff & Partners, based in Johannesburg, usually work on a contingency fee, which is no-win, no-fee, and have assisted large numbers of victims to claim compensation from the Road Accident Fund (RAF).
The Unproven Allegations Of Overcharging
The wife of the accident victim, Jennifer Graham, whom Bobroff and his son made the initial complaint with the Law Society of Northern Provinces in June of last year, claims as follows: that Ronald Bobroff & Partners “extremely” overcharged in her husband’s case.
Allegedly, Matthew Graham, suffered brain injuries in a 2006 accident, which Bobroff & Partners recovered a settlement of R 1.9 million and costs of R300 000, from the RAF. Allegedly Bobroff was hired by Graham, with the agreement she would pay 30 percent of any awards paid out from the RAF.
Allegedly The Attorney Retained 40%?
In California, by contract, a fee can be more than 40%. The effects here, are not clear. Allegedly, the Grahams recovered only R1.1 million, with Bobroff and his son allegedly retaining 40 percent, or R1.1 million for legal fees, doctor, advocates and other professional fees. Allegedly the Bobroff’s claimed the funds were used to obtain the settlement.
Allegedly, the application Graham submitted to the Gauteng North High Court in October, stated the Law Society has not held a disciplinary hearing. Allegedly the document stated that her lawyer George van Niekerk of Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs believes that Bobroff and his son are attempting to block the hearing indefinitely. Allegedly, the Graham’s belong to Discovery Health Medical Scheme, and Discovery Holdings is allegedly paying Van Kiekerk’s legal fees.
They are allegedly seeking to recover the medical expenses that Matthew Graham was awarded from the RAF. There are concerns about Bobroff’s practices in this and similar cases, by Discovery Holdings. Allegedly, in August, Graham and her attorney allegedly provided the Law Society with a report from a leading forensic chartered accountant. Allegedly the accountant had reviewed Bobroff & Partners ledger accounts in the Graham case and for other another case of Jean de la Guerre.
Allegedly De la Guerre had a contingency fee agreement with Bobroff & Partners, and recovered R 1.5 million, in a pay out by the RAF of R2.5 million. Allegedly, she has also filed an application to recover more of the settlement she was awarded from the Broboff’s.
Allegedly, Vincent Faris, forensic accountant, has stated he found evidence in the records, for both Graham and De la Guerre cases. Faris said he found contraventions of the Income Tax Act, the Companies Act, the VAT act, the Attorneys Act and rules of the Law Society.
Allegedly No Legal Fees Were Reported in Accounting Records
Allegedly, Faris’ affidavit forms a part of Grahams application and contains information Faris found, including transactions in Bobroff & Partners ledger that does not agree, with the account statements provided to Graham and De la Guerre. Allegedly he said there were no legal fees recorded in the accounting records, for Graham’s case, which means there is no VAT paid on the fees.
Allegedly there was a payment of R758 000 that was recorded as having been made to Bidvest Bank Account. Faris said this is suspicious and seems more like the payment of R758 000 was made, of the fee passing through the law firms books. Allegedly he said, there has been manipulations of the records, allowing them to avoid the payment of Vat and tax.
Allegations of Irregular Trust Accounts
This is a big no no in California. The alleged affidavit by Faris suggests that these accounting procedures were not isolated to only the Graham and De la Guerre cases. Allegedly Faris has recommended that Bobroff & Partner’s financial statements be audited, trust accounts be acquired, in which the irregular payments were traced. Allegedly the court applications filed by Graham and Van Niekerk, were passed with recommendation to the Law Society, which has not inspected Bobroff & Partner’s practice.
Allegedly Whistleblower Affidavit is Damning
Allegedly Graham included in her application an affidavit from Bernadine van Wyk, who was Bobroff’s bookkeeper, until she was fired last month, and provides more credibility to Faris’ report. Allegedly Van Wyk’s affidavit was done as a whistleblower, as outlined in the Protected Disclosures Act. According to Van Wyk, normally the bookkeeper for a law firm, would record the legal fees as payments, against the settlement that was awarded as soon as it was made. She said this did not occur at Bobroff & Partners. Instead she said there were “fictitious disbursements” that were issued for expenses that occurred during cases or cash checks that were drawn for clients, which were endorsed in order or the partners to take money out of the practice.
The affidavit Van Wyk filed allegedly includes a statement from another former bookkeeper of the Bobroff & Partners, Christy de Beer. De Beer made the statement to Andre van der Merwe, the auditor of Bobroff’s trust accounts. De Beer alleges a check for R115599 was made out to a client; however the check was endorsed and deposited into Darren Bobroff’s account. Van Wyk also alleged in her affidavit:
- Van Niekerk requested files pertaining to the Graham case and other Discovery Health members from Ronald Bobroff. De Beer said Darren Bobroff worked on 70 of the files and made-up accounts for them. Then she was instructed to pass relevant ledger entries to the ledger that correlated.
- Sanitized financial information was provided to Van Niekerk, for the cases he investigated and notes for the amount of time attorneys spent with the clients on their cases, which were falsified.
- Discovery Health members, who were clients, were contacted by Bobroffs claiming that during a clean-up it had been discovered their payment was shorted and offered additional payments.
- Faris noted in his report that in the De la Guerre case a referral fee was supposedly paid in the amount of R385 513 to L Berman, when it was actually made to Lisa Berman Bobroff, wife of Darren Bobroff.
- Prior to the audit of the Bobroff’s law firm, by the South African Revenue Service in July 2012, VAT invoices were “manufactured.”
A list of personal finance questions were allegedly sent to Ronald and Darren Bobroff, concerning the issued raised in the High Court application, to which Ronald Bobroff replied he did not personally represent Matthew Graham in his case. In the Van Wyk statements and affidavit, he attacked Van Wyk’s integrity and aid that none of the professional staff or directors in the 38 years Ronald Bobroff & Partners has existed, has ever faced professional misconduct in front of the Law Society.
Allegedly No Action by Law Society
Allegedly a complaint was lodged by Jennifer Graham with the Law Society of the North Provinces, against Ronald and Darren Bobroff in June 2011. In her court application Graham and her attorney George van Niekerk, said that the Bobroff’s are avoiding answering the complaint, and have not permitted proper inspection of the law firm’s trust account.
Allegedly, a Law Society investigation committee, heard the complaint in February, 2012 and there recommendation was 22 charges against Ronald and Darren Bobroff’s for over- charging or over-reaching, falsifying the case file notes, as in the Graham case, where they falsified as spending many more hours than actually necessary.
Allegedly when a disciplinary committee was convened, the Bobroff’s obtained a court interdict to stop the proceedings of the Law Society. It has been agreed the Law Society will convene a new disciplinary committee, which will meet later this month. Allegedly Van Niekerk, said the worries the Bobroff’s will use obstructive techniques to delay the hearing and then will argue eventually for a permanent stay for the hearing.
Allegedly Graham and Van Niekerk worry that the conduct of both Bobroff and Law Society are making it possible that unsuspecting members of the public could be placed in the danger of dishonest and unprofessional conduct. This was a really interesting story and it shows that lawyers are people too.
Ehline Law Firm PC 633 West 5th St. #2890 Los Angeles, CA 90071, 213.596.9642.