Ex-con’s suit against lawyer turned away by Puisne Judge
A $60 million damages claim against lawyer Mark Pettingill by a former client was dismissed by a judge yesterday, because the plaintiff took too long to bring the case to court.
Lloyd Smith, 62, claimed in his civil suit he spent more than seven years in jail for grievous bodily harm because Mr Pettingill didn’t properly represent him an allegation the lawyer dismissed as “just absolute nonsense”.
Puisne Judge Ian Kawaley ruled the claim should be struck out because it was filed more than six years after the alleged harm and therefore went beyond the statute of limitations. He ordered Mr Smith to pay legal costs of $500 to Mr Pettingill.
The judge told a chambers hearing in Supreme Court: “It has to be said that, no matter how genuinely aggrieved the plaintiff feels, there is nothing that he has said which advances, from a legal standpoint, any arguable case that Mr Pettingill did in fact, in legal terms, act negligently in terms of his representation of the plaintiff.”
Mr Smith, of Tommy Fox Road, St David’s, was imprisoned for seven years in February 2004 after a jury unanimously found him guilty of grievous bodily harm for viciously attacking his ex-lover.
The jury also convicted the taxi driver of depriving his female victim of her liberty and being in possession of an offensive weapon, a pipe.
Mr Smith was released from prison in April 2010 and filed his writ against Mr Pettingill in October 2011.
Dennis Dwyer, representing Mr Pettingill, applied for the matter to be struck out, arguing the case brought against his client was for “false imprisonment” yet no details of such harm were submitted.
He explained Mr Pettingill resigned during Mr Smith’s trial because he couldn’t get proper instructions.
Mr Justice Kawaley said the submission was a claim of negligence and that as “unmeritorious” as it appeared, Mr Smith should be given an opportunity to explain.
Mr Smith, representing himself, said Mr Pettingill should have applied for bail for him after he was arrested, initially for attempted murder.
“Mark Pettingill should have made a request, a motion for me to be removed from Westgate in protective custody. He never made that application. I stayed in protective custody for seven years and 40 days straight. I was never released on my own recognisance to find proper legal advice.”
He told the judge he was denied parole once sentenced to jail and lost an appeal against his conviction. He said he suffered crippling arthritis in prison and could not persuade a lawyer to represent him.
Mr Justice Kawaley told him: “From a legal standpoint, this is a very straightforward matter because, although you may have a sense of grievance in terms of the way you were represented, the law imposes a six-year limitation period within which anybody who wishes to bring a civil claim must commence their proceedings.”
The judge said it would have been quite possible for him to contact a lawyer and seek Legal Aid to bring his civil case while in prison.
He added: “It’s clear on the face of the plaintiff’s pleadings that the claim is time-barred and that the defendant has a simple and clear cut defence, which would be an obstacle to the plaintiff’s claim succeeding.”
Mr Smith said after the ruling: “This is truly a travesty of justice.”
Mr Pettingill, who did not appear at the chambers hearing, told this newspaper Mr Smith was a vexatious litigant whose claim against him was “ridiculous”.
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