29 August 2018

Namibia: Lawyer Shoots Himself...

A WELL-KNOWN veteran of the legal profession in Namibia, Chris Brandt, ended his own life at his house in Windhoek yesterday.

Brandt (67) took his own life by shooting himself in the head with a revolver at about 06h00 yesterday, the Namibian Police's Public Relations Division announced. The police also announced that no suicide note was found.

Having been a practising lawyer in Namibia for more than 40 years, Brandt was one of the country's most senior legal practitioners.

The chairperson of the council of the Law Society of Namibia, Meyer van den Berg, commented yesterday: "The passing of Mr Brandt is indeed tragic. Mr Brandt was one of our most senior and well-respected legal practitioners, who left an indelible mark on the Namibian legal profession and its members. He will certainly be missed."

After being admitted as an attorney in the High Court in May 1978, Brandt spent the first 20 years of his legal career in government service, and was appointed as Namibia's first government attorney following the country's independence in 1990. He served in that senior post in the Office of the Attorney General for more than eight years, before going into private practice with his law firm, Chris Brandt Attorneys, near the end of 1998.

Brandt had been involved in a battle to save his career over the past week and a half. He was due to appear in the Windhoek High Court yesterday morning to oppose an urgent application in which the Law Society of Namibia (LSN) was asking the court to order his temporary suspension from practice as a legal practitioner.

The application was prompted by a letter that Brandt wrote to the director of the LSN, Retha Steinmann, on 9 August informing her that since January this year, money was transferred from his law firm's trust account, in which money was supposed to be kept on behalf of clients of the firm, to the firm's business account in order to pay salaries and overhead expenses.

Brandt also informed Steinmann that his firm was experiencing cash flow and liquidity problems because numerous of his clients had not settled their debts with the firm. Clients owed Chris Brandt Attorneys about N$2 million, he stated.

He undertook to rectify the situation about the firm's trust account by 21 August, and stated that in future, the firm would "take drastic measures to avoid repetition of such an incident".

Alarmed by the letter and a letter the LSN received from the firm's auditors, the council of the LSN decided to apply to the High Court for Brandt's temporary suspension as a legal practitioner, and to have a curator appointed to administer the trust account and affairs of his firm.

"It is a cardinal rule of the professional and ethical conduct required of legal practitioners that trust monies are off limits to practitioners, and that withdrawals from the trust account are only permissible in very narrow and defined circumstances," Steinmann stated in an affidavit filed at the court.

She informed the court that in each of the past three years, Brandt's firm received a qualified audit report after his auditors noticed that trust account funds had been used to pay the firm's expenses, although in each year, the total amount of money taken out of the trust account for that purpose had also been placed back in the trust account.

Given Brandt's seniority and experience as a legal practitioner, the circumstances that necessitated the LSN's application to the court were unfortunate and regrettable, Steinmann stated. She also said she had great sympathy for Brandt, adding that "it is precisely because he is one of our senior practitioners that he should have known better", and that the way his firm's trust account had been used was considered to be "a cardinal sin" in the legal profession.

Brandt opposed the application for his suspension. While admitting that money out of the trust account had been misused, he denied that he was guilty of unprofessional or dishonest conduct.

He also stated that being suspended after practising law for 40 years would severely prejudice him for the rest of his life, and would have devastating consequences not only for himself and his family, but also for the ten people employed in his firm.

Brandt further informed the court that the death of his mother in December last year resulted in great emotional strain on him.

Brandt was divorced, and was the father of five children.


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