Chief Court Reporter
Lawyer Puwayi Chiutsi is facing de-registration on the recommendation of the Law Society of Zimbabwe after a disciplinary tribunal found he abused trust funds amounting to US$70 000 and sold an immovable property under judicial attachment.
A Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal led by Justice Felistus Chatukuta found Chiutsi guilty of conduct unbefitting of a legal practitioner after Chiutsi failed defend himself in the case involving the conversion to his own use of the US$70 000 he was holding in trust for his former client, Mr Elliot Rogers.
After he had failed to pay the judgment debt in HH222/15, the Sheriff attached some of his immovable property to recover Mr Rogers’ money. But when sold the property was not sufficient to satisfy the judgment debt so the Sheriff attached a second property, this time a plot of 4 377 square metres and registered a caveat against it.
But the impudent lawyer disregarded the caveat and sold the property in January 2019. During the hearing, Chiutsi argued that there was nothing that prevented him from selling the property as he was the registered owner of the property. But Justice Chatukuta, in her ruling, found that Chiutsi lied that he had discharged the judgment debt when he sold the property.
“The respondent’s conduct in selling a property, the subject of a caveat and under judicial attachment, brings the name of the legal profession into disrepute,” said Justice Chatukuta. “The Law Society of Zimbabwe adequately proved that the respondent’s conduct was unprofessional, dishonourable, unworthy and unbefitting of a legal practitioner.”
In October 2016, then High Court judge Justice Nicholas Mathonsi once castigated the Law Society for turning a blind eye to Chiutsi’s questionable conduct of abusing trust funds and described the lawyer’s actions as a disgrace to the profession. He was shocked that Chiutsi was still practising as a lawyer.
“More importantly, how and indeed why is such a legal practitioner still enjoying the pride of space among the rank and file in this noble profession? He continues freely traversing the country as a legal practitioner. It is disgraceful,” the judgment read.
Court papers showed that in 2012, Mr Rogers sold a property for US$266 000 and engaged Chiutsi as conveyancer. Money was paid but the lawyer reportedly took a whole year just to register the transfer. Meanwhile, Chiutsi had only paid US$150 000 from the purchase price to Mr Rogers, leaving a balance of US$116 000.
He later tried to appropriate most of it as his legal fees despite being entitled to a small fraction of that in terms of the laid down conveyancing tariff, sparking the legal battle that has been running for over nine years.
Lawyers are not allowed to charge more or less than the laid down tariff, which is a percentage of the price, when conveyancing property.
One of the main reasons why lawyers have a monopoly on conveyencing is that they have an audited trust fund to keep the money in and are trusted professionally not to dip into that trust fund.
Deregistering a lawyer has to be done in the High Court, but the Law Society presents the case.