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My career is under attack lawyer

Lawyer Llewellyn Peniston

Lawyer Llewellyn Peniston believes people in the legal world are trying to scupper his career, his own attorney said this week.Eugene Johnston spoke out on Mr Peniston's behalf after he was subject to disciplinary proceedings and a ban from practice.According to Mr Johnston, sources who told this newspaper about the matter “would use any means to ensure that after Mr Peniston's suspension is a thing of the past, there will be no legal practice for him to walk back into”.The action against Mr Peniston came after complaints were lodged with the disciplinary arm of the Bar Association, the Professional Conduct Committee, about his handling of financial affairs and his firm's accounts.Mr Peniston pleaded guilty to six charges of improper conduct. He denied a seventh count of improper conduct charged against him by the Bar Council itself.He was found guilty of that charge after a hearing before a disciplinary tribunal, and suspended from all practice until January 22.After that, he is only allowed to practise in the field of criminal law until November 22, 2012.A report in Friday's edition of this newspaper erroneously stated that the conviction and ban were imposed by the Bermuda Bar Association.In fact, they were the result of a hearing by a separate statutory body, the Professional Conduct Committee, which investigated and prosecuted the complaints.Chief Justice Richard Ground appointed the members of the disciplinary tribunal, which must be made up of a Supreme Court judge and two members of the bar.Mr Peniston lodged an appeal against the sentence of the disciplinary tribunal, but the Court of Appeal upheld it.Mr Johnston believes the comments given to this newspaper from anonymous sources in advance of the official notice gave the false impression there had been dishonesty on Mr Peniston's part. In fact, he said, the disciplinary tribunal “made a specific finding” that Mr Peniston was not dishonest.“No one with sufficient knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the Bar Council's complaints against Mr Peniston can seriously take the view that Mr Peniston was dishonest in his dealings with any of his clients,” said Mr Johnston.“It is quite concerning that anonymous sources could make the comments they did.“Any implication that Mr Peniston misappropriated monies belonging to clients, or had the intention of depriving clients of property that rightfully belonged to them, is the stuff of fantasy.”He continued: “The real story seems to be that those anonymous sources, quoted by this paper, would use any means to ensure that, after Mr Peniston's suspension is a thing of the past, there will be no legal practice for him to walk back into.“If they had their way, Mr Peniston would not be allowed to practise any form of law. Mr Peniston is committed to ensuring that they do not get their wish.“The firm he heads up is currently undergoing a detailed review of all aspects of its practice and has already put in place more than sufficient safeguards against complaints of the sort Mr Peniston recently faced.”Mr Johnston said Mr Peniston fears the sources were persons close to the investigatory and disciplinary process within his professional body.“Mr Peniston believes that it is not just him who should be committed to this kind of systemic review. A spotlight needs to be cast on the Bar Association itself. Without a completely independent and fair-dealing Bar Association, the legal profession as a whole will continue to suffer from reputational damage,” he said.Bermuda Bar Association president Kiernan Bell said in response: “The charges leading to Mr Peniston's suspension did not involve allegations of dishonesty. The charges, finding and sentence have been published in the Official Gazette and speak for themselves.”In relation to Mr Peniston's other concerns, she said: “In order to protect the reputation of a lawyer, which can be harmed if a complaint proves groundless, the disciplinary process must be held confidential until its conclusion.“For that reason sections 24 and 25 of the Bermuda Bar Act expressly provides that every disciplinary proceeding shall be treated as confidential until publication of the charges proved in the Official Gazette. In fact, until publication in the Official Gazette of the charges, findings or sentence, no one having access to the disciplinary proceedings was in a position to comment without being in breach of the law.”She added: “If members of the profession breach our code of conduct and do not comport themselves and their practices in accordance with our regulations then they can expect to be the subject of disciplinary proceedings. This is what we agree to when we become members of the bar because if we fail to conduct ourselves properly the reputation of the profession as a whole will suffer and public confidence in us will erode.“I am quite satisfied that the Bar Council conducted itself appropriately in making its complaint. Thereafter the matter went through the process mandated by the Bermuda Bar Act and the sentence handed down by the disciplinary tribunal and as upheld by the Court of Appeal was appropriate and fair in all the circumstances.”