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Bryden partners guilty of professional misconduct

Bryden partners guilty of professional misconduct

Date June 12, 2012
Louise Hall

Two partners of the high-profile compensation law firm Bryden’s Law Office have been found guilty of professional misconduct for running advertisements including those encouraging victims of the “Butcher of Bega” to contact the firm.

This morning, the Administrative Decisions Tribunal handed down its judgment against solicitors Robert Bryden and Bandeli “Lee” Hagipantelis.

A hearing on what penalty they will face will be held tomorrow.

In 2010, the firm had attempted to take the NSW government to the High Court to have its ban on personal injury advertising ruled invalid, but its application for special leave was dismissed.

In 2007 and 2008, Bryden’s ran print, radio and television advertisements, using the slogans “Winning is everything” and “If you don’t win, we don’t get paid”.

In March 2008, Bryden’s website said it had been instructed by a number of women who had been treated by the former obstetrician and gynaecologist Graeme Reeves, who was dubbed the “Butcher of Bega”.

“If you have been a patient of Mr Reeves and have suffered as a result you should call Bryden’s now as you have legal rights to compensation. Bryden’s are accepting a maximum of 50 clients for this action and the number of places is filling fast so don’t miss out.”

In August that year, the website was updated to say: “Bryden’s has now commenced work on behalf of dozens of women affected by the alleged negligence of former Doctor Graeme Reeves.”

It also said it was acting for a number of people who had taken the drug Fosamax in legal action against the manufacturer of these drugs in relation to their alleged failure to provide adequate warning labels.

In a hearing before the tribunal in April, the Legal Services Commissioner, Steve Mark, said each publication was a breach of the Legal Profession Regulation in relation to personal injury advertising.

But Mr Bryden and Mr Hagipantelis said they never looked at their own website and claimed they had instructed the firm’s general manager to ensure all ads complied with the laws by getting them approved by the Law Society or the Office of the Legal Services Commissioner.

Mr Hagipantelis said he was of the “firm and clear belief” that his instructions about checking contents of proposed ads were being followed.

He said he did not know about the Fosamax ad, which was placed by his staff “without authority from either my partner or myself”.

The three-member tribunal found Mr Bryden and Mr Hagipantelis “demonstrated highly commendable endeavours to comply” with the regulations when they were introduced in 2002 and 2003, and the then general manager established a system designed to ensure that each new advertisement published was checked.

But this system was not maintained when a new general manager, Paul Brandalise, started in 2006.

The tribunal said the partners “left it entirely to him” to ensure the ads met the regulations.

“This, in our view, Mr Brandalise not being a lawyer, was a gross abdication of their responsibilities … it is telling that neither [Mr Bryden nor Mr Hagipantelis] seems to have looked at the firm’s website.”

In a written judgment, the tribunal also said: “We regret to have to say that neither, in our opinion, was an impressive witness. They seemed to us less than frank and overly defensive in seeking to justify as adequate the level of supervision they exercised in respect of the firm’s advertising.”

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