A "cruel and selfish" Launceston lawyer who is set to be struck off for dishonesty misled a woman about her worker's compensation claim for six years.
William Frederick Lester was found not to be a fit and proper person by Justice Michael Brett after a complaint from the Legal Profession Board of Tasmania alleging two counts of professional misconduct and one of unsatisfactory professional conduct.
"I have been particularly influenced by the nature and extent of the respondent's dishonesty in respect of Mrs S," Justice Brett said in his decision.
"I am satisfied that he is not a fit and proper person to be entrusted with the duties and responsibilities of a legal practitioner."
As well as the deception of Mrs S, Mr Lester also failed to disclose to the Law Society of Tasmania a disciplinary order made in the ACT when seeking to renew his practising certificate and failed to comply with an investigation after a member of the public made a complaint.
The court heard that the woman went to Mr Lester in 2011 about a worker's compensation claim after her payments were blocked.
He agreed to act for her on a no-win, no-fee basis.
Mr Lester did not file anything with the Worker Rehabilitation and Compensation Tribunal until January 2017 and repeatedly blamed it and the other parties for the delay.
"There are at least 32 occasions when he made false statements to her on the status and progress of the claim," Justice Brett found.
In his 27-page finding Justice Brett cited an April 2012 email from the woman: "Things are not good at the moment, I'm struggling with new pain ... I need some good news Fred. I'm just not coping physically and emotionally with this whole thing now".
"The respondent was deliberately lying to Mrs S at times and in circumstances in which it must have been obvious to him that she had become desperate about the impact of the delay on her own life and on the potential success of the case," Justice Brett said.
He said Mr Lester demonstrated well thought out and systematic deceit.
Such conduct was cruel and selfish and displayed a complete absence of empathy and concern for the client's welfare.Justice Michael Brett
The conduct included inventing a fictitious conciliation conference for which the woman drove more than an hour and was feeling "very anxious" about.
When she arrived, Mr Lester told her that it had been cancelled because someone on the other side's mother had died.
Justice Brett said he created false documents to mislead other practitioners in his own firm.
The deception was not discovered until October 2017 when Mrs S contacted the tribunal.
"The practitioner's dishonest conduct was systematic, repeated and continued unabated over a period of almost six years," Justice Brett said.
When asked why he had not worked on the file, Mr Lester said: "A question I have asked myself numerous times and I am unable to say. I just had it there. I remember it sitting on the file for literally years. I was stuck in the mud so to speak. I just hit a blank wall and I'm honestly not sure".
In court, his counsel said the conduct "largely arose from an untreated mental health condition".
The woman's claim was finally resolved in 2019.
Mr Lester failed to disclose the ACT action at a time he was an executive committee member of the Law Society of Tasmania in 2016-17.
Justce Brett found two cases of professional misconduct and one of unsatisfactory professional conduct.
He said that Mr Lester lied under oath in court when he claimed he could not remember taking certain actions.
"I simply cannot accept that the respondent was giving truthful evidence when he said he could not remember handwriting the relevant notes or typing false letters," Justice Brett said.
"I am satisfied that he has lied in evidence to this court."
Justice Brett said that because Mr Lester was admitted in the ACT that the appropriate order was that the Supreme Court recommend to the Supreme Court of the ACT that he be removed from the roll of practitioners entitled to practise before that court.
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