When you read our cover story about the Gauteng advocates who (to quote a recent Pretoria high court judgment) have "mounted the steed of greed", you will appreciate that, while the individual cases are shocking, it is the sheer number of lawyers involved and the institutionalised culture of greed that they represent, that is most shocking and calls for the most radical action.
To put some perspective on the matter: four Pakistani cricketers -- players in just a game, I might remind you -- were in the same month given prison sentences of up to 32 months in jail in England for deliberately bowling no-balls to favour certain gambling interests.
The lawyers we are speaking of have been playing with people's lives and imperiling the road accident fund -- let's not even talk about undermining public respect for the legal profession.
Then there is the implied subtext to all of this: where are all the attorneys that were favouring those advocates with multiple briefs and, no doubt, themselves double, treble and quadruple charging their clients -- and, as inevitably, doing a shoddy job in the process? Who are they, and what's to become of them?
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE TOO YOU FOR YOU?
It is in contrast to such stories that some people found the cover story in nose143 -- about the trivialising of domestic violence -- a bit too You. (And, dare we say it, a bit too young?)
They are wrong. The victim of such an abuse of institutional power is as entitled to our attention and support as is a road accident victim, or a client wronged in business by a bank or insurance company. Even more so; the veil of secrecy the law casts over domestic violence matters also invites abuse -- and Noseweek's special attention.
We will return to that subject as soon as we have fully researched the many more cases that have now been brought to our attention.
In the meantime, some good news: in the Western Cape the provincial legal services department of the SAPS has for the past two months had senior lawyers on their staff travelling the length and breadth of the province to retrain and update police station managements in how to deal with domestic violence matters.
One of them, advocate Martell van Lill, told Noseweek: "Because we have a constant influx of new members, we need constantly to be training them in the peculiarities of orders in terms of the Domestic Violence Act.
"How we are going to deal with the growing incidence of abuse of the Act by unscrupulous applicants and lawyers is another matter which requires attention. Maybe, for a start, we should be reminding applicants for such orders that to lie in a statement of complaint is itself a serious criminal offence."
In nose143 we put the spotlight on the problem by relating how Colin Chaplin had a domestic violence order served on him at work, based on a pestering woman's complaint that she was "frightened of what he might do to her" -- because he’d threatened to "unfriend" her on Facebook.
Even more bewildering was that designer Danielle Vermaas said she’d been advised to seek the order by his ex-girlfriend, well-connected Cape Town attorney Lauren Fine.
Subsequently, between February and May this year, Fine’s Facebook friends started receiving abusive messages about her, all apparently emanating from Vermaas’s Facebook address. When Fine confronted Vermaas, she claimed that someone had pirated her Facebook site and that she had reported the matter to the police.
The Facebook messages stopped -- only to be replace with even more offensive printed messages delivered by mail, as many as 50 of them in a month.
What was immediately clear was that both women were determined to use the police to somehow -- anyhow -- vindicate their otherwise indefensible prior actions in seeking that domestic violence order.
A policeman called on the last remaining friend Chaplin still has in common with Fine -- for no other reason than to "dig dirt" on Chaplin's character which might be used to discredit him. She knew of none. Next, Captain Leon Marx of the detective branch went in search of hackers at Noseweek: he called us, wanting to know how we'd accessed the picture of Vermaas used in nose143, which, he told us, "it was held on a closed website in Australia". Easy to answer: go to Google images, and type in her name.
On October 6, five policemen accompanied by Yvette Palm, a forensic specialist allegedly hired by Fine, arrived at Chaplin’s door with a search and seizure warrant. The warrant was not authorised by a magistrate and was therefore not valid, but they proceeded anyway to seize his and his family's computers, his cellphone and various documents. Oddly, they were also looking for copies of Farmers' Weekly, a magazine he has never bought or had occasion to read. So hyped were the policemen on his supposed dangerous criminal intent that they illegally seized his passport as well. During the search and seizure exercise all the printers were inspected and it was immediately established that they could not have been used to print the letters received by Fine.
It now emerged that the offensive printed notes sent to Fine and her attorney partners were printed on a particular type of paper, using an identifiable type of printer – and, it is hinted, included offensive pictures cut from Farmers' Weekly.
Soon after everything was returned. Nothing had been found on phones or computers to incriminate Chaplin; there was, in fact, nothing to suggest that he was the author oor in any way linked to the offensive letters.
Meanwhile, Fine has closed down her Facebook page, while Vermaas has renamed hers Danielle Margaux and replaced her portrait with a picture of an anonymous fashion model.
Chaplin is yet to receive an apology, or offer of compensation for the cost of defending court and police actions frivolously, if not maliciously, instigated against him.
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