By LAMECH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
AN AMERICAN is appalled that there has been no resolution to his complaint against a Bahamian lawyer in 2003 concerning alleged embezzling of $20,000 that stemmed from a mortgage dispute with a bank.
Ilan Weiss, of New York, complained to the Bahamas Bar Association (BBA) when he discovered the lawyer had misinformed him about the status of civil proceedings over the condominium in Freeport, Grand Bahama, which he bought in 1985. It became foreclosed by a court order in 1996 that took effect the following year.
When contacted about the complaint, BBA President Elsworth Johnson said that he was in communication with Mr Weiss but that the matter was ultimately before the Ethics Committee, which is an independent body in the legal association.
Asked about the status of Mr Weiss’ complaint, Caryl Lashley, chair of the Ethics Committee, said she could not immediately recall the matter filed back to that date and that even if she did check the unit’s files, the matter(s) and investigation(s) into any complaints was not public information as “some complaints are scurrilous”.
Mrs Lashley did, however, invite Mr Weiss to contact her and the committee if he wished to make an inquiry.
In a letter sent to The Tribune, Mr Weiss noted that the lawyer in question, “was supposed to be brought in front of the tribunal of the Ethics Committee. This, however, according to my knowledge has never come about”.
“In my opinion,” he said, “it appears that this attorney has been treated as a ‘sacred cow’.
“The way the previous president of the Bar Association handled my case was most frustrating and upsetting to me. From what I understand, he is considered a fine attorney with an outstanding reputation. However, the way he handled my case with the Ethics Committee does not fit with his so called well-known reputation,” the complainant added.
“He seemed to misunderstand the elements of my case. My main case was the defalcation of monies placed in the Freeport attorney’s escrow account.”
Mr Weiss had given the attorney $20,000 to handle negotiations on his behalf when a bank took him to court for in 1995 due to outstanding mortgage payments. However, he was not made aware that said trial had concluded a year later with an ordered foreclosure in 1996.
Up to the summer of 2003, Mr Weiss had been purportedly led by the attorney he retained to believe that the case was still pending and that he should live in the apartment, for which he paid maintenance and other fees.
When the lawyer refused to return the $20,000 in 2003 upon giving his verbal resignation from the case he claimed that was still pending, Mr Weiss sent a letter to the BBA in July 2003 lodging a complaint.
The Ethics Committee is responsible for handling complaints made against any member of the BBA.
“It is my understanding” Mr Weiss noted, “that one of the duties of the Bahamas Bar Association is to police, monitor and if necessary discipline the behaviour of the attorneys in the Bahamas.
“I assumed defalcation of escrow funds is a serious violation of the attorney’s code of conduct. If they fail to do that, the basis of the responsibilities of attorneys to their clients in the Bahamas fails and the respect of the citizens to their attorneys fails as well. Should someone be investigating the Bahamas Bar Association?” he concluded.
On Friday, Mr Weiss said he was told it was hoped the case would be before the tribunal by the end of the year or in 2015.