Interdict against lawyer

Attorney may not practise pending application to strike him from roll

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A Port Elizabeth lawyer who allegedly pocketed R1.3m of a paralysed client’s Road Accident Fund (RAF) payout – which he claimed was a loan – has been interdicted from practising law, pending an application to strike him from the roll of attorneys.

Dismissing the lawyer’s claims as far-fetched, judge Judith Roberson – with judge Jeremy Pickering agreeing – said Shaun Masimla’s claim that Edison Cunningham had lent him a major portion of his settlement from the RAF was “palpably implausible”.

Masimla – who still faces a criminal trial over the matter – has acknowledged he still owes Cunningham and his wife, Berenice, R1.3m.

The RAF settled the claim of just more than R3.5m following injuries Cunningham sustained in a serious car accident.

The money was to be paid out in instalments – R173,515 on January 6 2012, R960,000 on February 15 2012, and R2,397,604 on April 23 2013.

Masimla initially paid Cunningham just over R1.1m – the rest of the money, however, was not forthcoming.

Roberson said the Cunninghams had been in desperate need of money at the time that Masimla claimed they had lent him more than R1m – something she simply did not believe they would have done.

In an affidavit, Berenice said she had to beg Masimla for the money and he would make excuses for not paying it out.

She said that, at one stage, Masimla arrived at her home and told her he was in financial difficulty and wanted a loan – which she did not agree to.

In her judgment, handed down late last month, Roberson said the payments from the RAF would have been the couple’s means of survival.

“In my view, the respondent’s version that the Cunninghams agreed to lend him money from the proceeds of the claim can be rejected as farfetched and palpably implausible,” she said.

“It is simply not credible that people in their position would part with such a large sum of money.”

Masimla received a number of payments over a few months from the RAF for the couple, but did not pay them when the money was received.

Instead, over a three-year period, he dished out small amounts for living expenses.

Roberson said the only conclusion that could be drawn was Masimla was using the money for his own purposes.

At one point, Masimla even managed to persuade Berenice to sign an acknowledgement of debt from him – stating that he did not have to pay interest.

She had agreed as the couple were desperate to be paid.

Masimla also dodged the issue when the Law Society asked for an explanation.

He managed to avoid the issue for three months, before claiming that his office had been broken into and his computers stolen.

He had also failed to account to the Law Society or the Cunninghams about how he had calculated his fees, Roberson said.

She interdicted Masimla from practising pending the application to strike his name from the attorneys’ roll.

Masimla will appear in the Port Elizabeth Commercial Crimes Court on October 15 to stand trial.

The Law Society of The Cape of Good Hope, represented by advocate Kerryn Watts, had applied for the interdict against Masimla.