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News - Briewe
Thursday, 09 December 2010 22:48
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Erik J Schonken from Rietvlei View writes:
In the course of a dispute with Kungwini Municipality, my wife and I made payments of R38 000 and R33 000 to our respective properties’ accounts. These amounts were paid directly into the trust account of De Swardt, Vögel and Myambo, a firm of attorneys from Pretoria who were retained by Kungwini Municipality.

Upon receipt of the Kungwini accounts it was immediately noticed that the first account showed a shortage of R10 776.86, while the other was short R9 411.19. Kungwini quickly confirmed that the missing amounts (about 28% of the total payment in each case) were retained by De Swardt, Vögel and Myambo Attorneys, ostensibly for “legal costs”. We obviously never agreed to pay any costs whatsoever. The Kungwini official in question was unable to explain any details of such alleged “costs” and referred me to the attorneys.

Space does not permit a detailed explanation of legal cost entitlements in cases like these. Suffice to say that, in general terms, legal costs are a matter between an attorney and his / her client and can, in the absence of an agreement, only be recovered from the other party by means of a cost award or statute and then only as per an applicable scale or rate and dependent on certain procedural requirements.

A ridiculous and exorbitant legal account, however creatively compiled it may be, cannot simply unlawfully be “retained” from trust funds for the account of the unsuspecting ratepayer. As could be expected, our enquiries with De Swardt, Vögel and Myambo did not go very well at all. They were understandably agitated and had up to now refused to provide any details with regard the so-called “legal costs” in these cases.

They had challenged me to “try” to make good on my threats to take them (and their client) to task for their abhorrent conduct and are in fact currently desperately resuming litigation in an apparent attempt to try and “punish” us for our insolence. I have decided to take them up on their challenge. I have since also enlisted the help of some colleagues from the forensic fraud investigation community. In addition, I remain of the opinion that the original claim amounts could be successfully opposed in court in any event.

It occurred to me that it would be very unlikely that we were the only victims of this arrangement between Kungwini and their attorneys. And even when Kungwini is eventually forced to reflect the correct payments on individual accounts, the municipality will still be paying these outrageous legal fees from public money. This while there are certainly legal practitioners available who would do the same work at very reasonable rates.

Kungwini ratepayers who have had the same or similar experience are welcome to contact me at 083-321-2393 or Karen from Schonken Incorporated Attorneys at 083-523- 7356 for free consultation. Even if you had already appointed attorneys, we will be interested in contacting such attorneys to cooperate with or assist them in any possible manner herein.

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