Southeast Queensland lawyer charged after allegedly defrauding client over $ 60,000
A lawyer in South East Queensland has been accused of defrauding the estate of an elderly client – a World War II refugee who survived the Nazi regime.
Police charged the 50-year-old lawyer, who cannot be named for legal reasons, in March with one count of fraud after he allegedly paid himself around $ 62,000 as the executor of the estate of Lydia Juss.
The Queensland Legal Services Commission (QLSC) also filed a disciplinary action last November against the lawyer in connection with her handling of the estates of Ms Juss and seven other elderly clients.
The case is before the Queensland Civil Administration Tribunal (QCAT).
If she is found guilty of professional misconduct, she could be struck off as a lawyer.
Ms Juss, 87, survived the horrors of World War II in a German-controlled camp for five years, after she and her family were forced to flee their home in Ukraine.
His brother Val Melnychenko said their family was among the thousands of homeless WWII refugees who came to Australia in 1949 as part of the Internally Displaced Persons Program.
“Lydia was very interested in helping others, she felt happy even though she had a difficult life,” Mr. Melnychenko said from his home in Victoria.
Ms Juss was in a Tugun nursing home in 2016 when she inherited the estate from her de facto husband Leo Artemeiff – also a refugee and prisoner of war from World War II.
She hired the lawyer to draft a new will for her estate valued at approximately $ 650,000.
“ They were such wonderful people ”
The attorney’s fraud charge followed a complaint by retired Queensland Police Department detective Rod Shelton, who was a neighbor of Ms Juss and Mr Artemeiff in Currumbin Waters.
Ms. Juss then appointed Mr. Shelton as administrator of her estate.
“I was at the retirement home when she [the lawyer] came to prepare the New Testament for Lydia and that’s where we talked about the money going to charity, ” Mr. Shelton told ABC News.
“[She] and I had to decide it together… that’s why I was included as a trustee… I told Lydia that all I wanted to do was look after her and her interests.
He said that after Ms Juss’s family received her inheritance, they wanted the rest to go to charities, including her husband’s de facto wish to bequeath $ 50,000 to Russian Boy Scouts in America.
“She told me Australia had been very good to her after she came here after the war and was very happy to give her something back,” Shelton said.
“They were such a remarkable couple who both survived the traumas of WWII. Leo was Polish and drafted into the Red Army, captured by the Germans three days later and survived the horrors of a POW camp for five years. An incredible feat of survival. He died at the age of 100. ”
Mr Shelton successfully applied to the Queensland Supreme Court in December 2018 to remove the lawyer as co-trustee of Ms Juss’ estate and return all of her money and assets.
Delayed charitable donations
In his court affidavit, Mr. Shelton said the lawyer paid four of Ms. Juss’s relatives according to the will.
He said he contacted her repeatedly for a year to administer the rest of the estate.
She responded with several explanations for the delays including she, and / or her relatives, were ill, she had “long periods of illness”, computer problems and marriage breakdown, Mr Shelton said.
The alleged delays meant Ms Juss remained in an unmarked grave for nearly two years after her death, as no funds were released to pay for a plaque for a tombstone for her and her husband.
It would also have delayed the fulfillment of Ms Juss’s last wish to bequeath thousands of dollars to charity.
Mr Shelton said after the lawyer took no action and did not respond after April 2018, he brought his concerns to the Queensland Legal Services Commission (QLSC) three months later .
Mr Shelton provided documents to ABC News in connection with his ongoing case with the attorney.
It included an August 2018 letter from Potts Lawyers, who represents the lawyer, to the CSLQ stating that their client had voluntarily ceased working as a lawyer and relinquished his practice certificate.
The letter also stated that the lawyer had drafted and issued engagement documents which “purported to allow her to charge excessive amounts” and that, “on three occasions”, she issued invoices and paid herself out of the sums of the estate held in trust for “work that had already been invoiced and paid for by the estate”.
Lawyer admits plaque delay was ‘unsatisfactory’
The lawyer told her lawyers that she “had been undergoing psychological treatment for many years in connection with a mental illness” and that “her current psychological state was not in line with the practice of law”, according to the letter from his own lawyer.
She also apologized to the Juss family for not authorizing payment for the plaque.
In November 2019, Mr Shelton successfully requested the Queensland Law Society’s Lawyer Loyalty Guarantee Fund to reimburse Ms Juss’s estate for $ 62,000 of money the lawyer allegedly paid for herself.
Mr. Shelton is also in joint action with the CSLQ to sue the attorney for approximately $ 25,000 in unpaid legal costs owed to the Juss estate.
This question is also before the QCAT.
Mr Shelton said if the request is successful, the money will go to the Fred Hollows Foundation.
Potts Lawyers, who represents the lawyer, declined to comment. She will appear in Southport Magistrates’ Court next week.