Friday, 19 September 2008

Lawyer jailed for stealing

JOHN AVERY, lawyer has been jailed in Hobart. The art-collecting former barrister was sentenced to 4½ years' imprisonment after pleading guilty to one count of misappropriation and 129 counts of stealing.

The 60-year-old, who practised in the suburb of Moonah, appeared on remand yesterday.

The Chief Justice, Ewan Crawford, told the Supreme Court that Avery's crimes appeared to result from him living far beyond the means of a $150,000-a-year income, and spending on excesses including art.

He misappropriated from his legal firm or stole from clients a total of $512,000 over six years before being detected by the firm's financial manager and Avery's partner in March 2006.

Avery kept records of much of what he took. The court heard he wishfully thought that one day he would reimburse those who had suffered from his crimes.

Now struck off the role of legal practitioners, he had to sell his family's house to pay its mortgage, and was likely to be bankrupt.

"His fall has been a considerable one," Justice Crawford said. "Crimes of this kind shake the security and confidence of the public and cause considerable harm to the reputation of the legal profession on whom the public should be able to rely."

Justice Crawford said Avery had a reputation as a hard-working lawyer with a practical, non-nonsense approach to his tasks, who worked pro bono if his clients required. Testimonials of good character were put before the court.

Unable to determine exactly who had suffered, or the extent of most of the losses, Justice Crawford ordered the repayment of four amounts totalling $80,000.

Avery claimed to have $350,000 work in progress at his firm before his forced retirement, and paintings and sculptures valued at $120,000 were retained.

He will be eligible for parole half-way through his sentence.

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