Frivolous Cases Brought by Lawyers

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Lawyer fees can be very expensive, and not all cases require the assistance of an experienced lawyer. In fact, we have website pages, blogs and videos about how to represent yourself in certain, less-serious criminal and traffic cases.

But for the most part, an investment in a good criminal lawyer will pay dividends when it comes to the end result – saving you a great deal of stress, protecting your liberty and reducing the longer term financial and personal costs of a criminal prosecution.

Unfortunately, some lawyers have a reputation for being overly litigious – whether by mounting pointless or ineffective criminal defences to detriment of their clients, or by commencing frivolous or vexatious claims.

Here are some examples of the latter category:

Robertson’s Missed Ferry

Robertson v Balmain New Ferry Company is not only a famous torts case, but an example of a self-represented lawyer with serious arrogance.

The case concerned a solicitor, Mr Robertson, who paid the handsome sum of one penny to enter the Balmain ferry terminal. A sign outside the wharf made it clear that the fee applied to everyone entering and leaving the wharf – whether they used a ferry or not.

Mr Robertson missed his ferry and went to leave the wharf – but he refused to pay the one penny exit fee on the basis that he had not used a ferry. The attendant refused to let him leave without paying, after which the lawyer brought an action for ‘false imprisonment’.

The case made it all the way to the Privy Council, the highest court in Britain, which found against Mr Robertson primarily due to commercial considerations of the Ferry company, and other similar businesses. The decision is debated and criticised to this day for “ignor[ing] well-established limitations on the circumstances in which a person’s imprisonment could be justified”.

But that is little consolation for Mr Robertson, whose refusal to pay one penny cost him a great deal of time and money, having been ordered to pay the other side’s legal costs

Mistreatment by Qantas

Melbourne lawyer Peter Lustig and his client Guiseppe de Simone were catching a Qantas flight from Sydney to Melbourne in 2006.

The pair had economy tickets but wanted to use a suit locker in business class. The cabin crew refused to give them access, at which point Lustig became angry and threatening. He was asked to leave the plane, but refused to do so and tried to enter the cockpit.

Eventually, Lustig got off the plane and was later charged with interfering with a crew–member. A jury found him guilty, but the conviction was overturned on appeal. Both Lustig and his client were placed on the Qantas ‘banned list’ as a result of the incident.

Mr Lustig later made a compensation claim in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) seeking:

  • 60 million frequent flier points (equivalent to $600,000 worth of flights),
  • Punitive damages (to punish Qantas for its conduct), and
  • $4.50 for the bus ticket he paid after being evicted from the plane.

After nine years of litigation, the case was finally ‘stayed’ (put off) by the Federal Court who found that VCAT did not have jurisdiction (power) to hear it.

The court also prohibited Lustig from taking the case any further.

Prostitutes as a Tax Deduction

William G Halby, a lawyer from Brooklyn, New York, tried to claim a $111,364 tax deduction in 2004/05 for ‘medical expenses’ he had spent on ‘therapeutic sex’ with prostitutes. By 2005/06, he only needed to spent $42,152; which either meant that his condition had improved, or he had received a frequent ‘flyer’ discount, or perhaps found a cheaper source.

When both claims were refused, Halby brought a law suit in 2009 against the tax commissioner. Unfortunately for him, the claim was dismissed on the basis that the therapy was not prescribed by a doctor. You might think a lawyer would have picked-up on that requirement.

A Pants Suit

On 3 May 2005, Judge Roy L Pearson of the District of Columbia, US, dropped his clothes off for dry–cleaning to a small business called Custom Dry Cleaning in Washington D.C.

Unfortunately, the cleaners mistakenly sent the pants to another dry cleaner, retrieving them for the judge two days later. But the judge refused to accept the pants, claiming they were not his despite confirmation of the cleaners’ records, tags and Pearson’s receipt.

In 2007, the judge sued the company for US$54 million in damages, including:

  • $500,000 attorney’s fees,
  • $2 million for his discomfort and mental distress,
  • $15,000 for having to rent a car each weekend to go to another dry cleaner, and
  • $51.5 million to help others to sue the business.

Not surprisingly, the judge ultimately lost the case – and his judicial position was not renewed at the end of its tenure.

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Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist with 25 years of experience as a Criminal Defence Lawyer. He is the Principal of Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.

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