Criminal Lawyer’s Prison Sentence Confirmed on Appeal


By Zeb Holmes and Ugur Nedim

Criminal defence lawyer Stephen Stubbs has lost his appeal for fraud convictions and will spend time in prison.

The offences

An ACT Supreme Court jury found 64-year old Stubbs guilty last year of 14 counts of dishonestly obtaining property by deception in the course of doing legal work for 19-year old Alexander Duffy, who was facing a charge of conspiracy to commit murder.

In 2008 and 2009, Mr Stubbs received $26,000 in money from his client’s mother Anne Duffy in addition to around $3,000 from Legal Aid ACT.

The lawyer’s actions were dishonest because he failed to inform the respective funders about the other’s contribution, leading them to believe they were the only source of funds.

He was sentenced to three years and one month imprisonment, with one year to be served behind bars and the rest suspended. He served nine days in prison before being released on bail pending the appeal.

Victim impact statement

In her victim impact statement, Anne Duffy said she felt preyed upon and betrayed by the lawyer, a man she trusted.

She recalled “running [herself] into the ground” to pay for her son’s defence “[a]ll because of the greed of Stephen Stubbs”, and being unable to pay for minor repairs to her home, which was “falling down” around her. “Now I find I do not trust or believe anything people say to me”, she added.

Supreme Court trial

Mr Stubbs’ trial was marred with interruptions.

On the second day, a juror became unavailable due to ‘medical reasons’. On the fourth, Stubbs’ barrister withdrew from the case for ‘ethical reasons’ and his solicitor sought and was granted leave to withdraw after his instructions were withdrawn.

Stubbs’ subsequent request for the jury to be discharged was denied, and he continued unrepresented despite the judge offering an adjournment to obtain fresh representation.

On the seventh day, Stubbs sent an email to the court advising that he had admitted himself to hospital for mental reasons. A subsequent medical report found no evidence of mental illness and the trial resumed, with the defendant in custody.

Appeal

Stubbs later appealed the verdict on the ground that he did not receive a fair trial, because his counsel had withdrawn and he was left to represent himself.

He also argued that the evidence was not capable of establishing the essential elements of the offence he was charged with, and that the verdict was ‘unsafe and unsatisfactory’.

Judgment

The full bench of the ACT Court of Appeal dismissed each ground of appeal.

As to an unfair trial, the court found Stubbs had voided his entitlement to legal representation by refusing the judge’s offer of an adjournment request to seek fresh counsel.

The appeal court further found no error in continuing the trial after Stubbs’ discharge from hospital, noting that “[t]he trial judge considered the then available medical evidence before continuing the trial”.

“At that time the appellant made no objection to the trial resuming. Again, this was a matter for the discretion of the trial judge.”

Stubbs’ legal career is formally over after the Supreme Court ruled he was not a fit and proper person to practice law, and removed him from the roll of lawyers.

Not the first time

Previous reports suggest that Stubbs had been the subject of other professional concerns, with the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal recommending he be removed from the register on a number of occasions.

Complaints against the lawyer included false representations to the Law Society about a personal relationship with a client, consenting to set aside a restraining order in the ACT Supreme Cour, against the instructions of a client, and attempting to deter a witness in disciplinary proceedings against him.

The Tribunal previously found that “the defendant’s conduct demonstrated dishonesty and a serious lack of integrity and that his attempt to cover up and or minimise the seriousness of his conduct when dealing with the Law Society was ‘preposterous’.”

On another occasion, it found that “[t]he conduct disclosed fundamental flaws in the defendant’s character of ‘dishonesty, disloyalty and a manifold contempt for his ethical duties to the Society, his clients and the administration of justice”.

Stubbs is just one of several lawyers sentenced for fraud offences in recent years.


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