A British lawyer, Jacqueline Mc Kenzie is preparing papers to file in the Grenada High Court to seek the committal to the Richmond Hill prison of a local barrister-at-law for failing to honour the order of a judge to hand over thousands of dollars owed to her client primarily from the sale of a mansion in the Westerhall area in St. David’s.
Speaking to THE NEW TODAY newspaper on Monday, Mc Kenzie confirmed that local barrister-at-law, Vanescia Francis-Banfield is in violation of an order made by Justice Margaret Mohammed to hand over a month ago a certain sum of money to a former client, Nicholas Moller.
Mc Kenzie declined to go into details of the case but admitted that she had been retained by Moller who now lives in the United Kingdom to bring a case against Francis-Banfield who operates her Chambers on the Corner of Scott and H.A Blaize Streets in St. George’s.
A search at the Supreme Court Registry showed that the judge sitting in High Court No. 3, Justice Margaret Mohammed had made an order requesting Francis-Banfield to hand over “the sum of $171, 439.70 by Bank Draft” to Moller “on or before February11, 2014”.
THE NEW TODAY has been reliable informed that a payment of only EC$86, 000.00 was handed over on Monday, less than half of the monies that were ordered by the judge to be paid into Moller’s account.
Francis-Banfield had filed papers in the court indicating that she had Moller’s monies holding for him in “a non-interest bearing account as directed by law”.
The source pointed out that Moller’s English lawyer is annoyed that the balance of EC$85, 439.00 was not paid by the local attorney in keeping with the Court Order and has decided to take the next step which is to seek a committal of Francis-Banfield to the Richmond Hill prison for violating the order of Justice Mohammed.
The local female attorney reportedly claimed that she was ill and unable to go to the bank Monday to send over the rest of the monies.
According to another legal source, Mc Kenzie is also in the process of writing a formal letter of complaint to the local body charged with regulating the conduct of lawyers for some kind of disciplinary action to be taken against Francis-Banfield for her behaviour in the matter before the high court judge.
This newspaper obtained documents pertaining to the lawsuit in which Francis-Banfield is named as the defendant.
The case is listed in the Supreme Court Registry records.
At issue is the sum of EC$450, 000.00 for the sale of a property in the Westerhall area in St. David’s and $EC92, 300.00 which Francis-Banfield collected from an escrow account of another law firm that was previously handling Moller’s affairs.
A legal source familiar with the case told this newspaper that Francis-Banfield is claiming most of Moller’s monies totalling approximately EC$542, 000.00 in legal fees and expenses.
He referred this newspaper to a particular formula used in the legal profession in Grenada in which lawyers charge a set fee for conveyancing of properties.
He said: “If the property is sold for $450, 000.00, like in this case, typically a lawyer will charge at most 2% of the sum received for the sale. That is how it should be. So in other words, the fees on that amount of money ($450, 000.00) should be around $9000.00 for a lawyer”.
“Even if she (Francis-Banfield) paid over some of the money Monday, the fact of the matter is that Francis-Banfield right now is in violation of the order of the court. The judge did not ask for part payment of the funds, the order was for a specific amount to be sent to the people by February 11 and this is one month later and the Order of the judge has not been met”, he added.
The source stated that the judge would most likely be peeved to see someone considered as an officer of the court continue to disobey the orders of the court itself.
The legal official described Mc Kenzie as a lawyer who was showing “too much leniency” in the circumstances and should have moved at a much earlier stage for a possible committal to prison of Francis-Banfield for not handing over the monies owed to Moller.
THE NEW TODAY was able to obtain a copy of the “Statement of Claim” filed by Moller on November 13, 2013 against the local attorney.
It reads in part: “The Claimant is a Nicholas Daniel Moller who was born on the 18th March 1993 in Grenada. He is 20 years old and is the grandson of the late Christopher Moller and the late Theresa Moller, who died in Grenada on the 24th April 2005 and the 8 June 2008, respectively, leaving the bulk of their estates to the Claimant (Nicholas Daniel Moller). The Claimant is currently living in the United Kingdom.
“The Defendant is a Vanescia Banfield who is the sole legal representative at the law firm of Francis Banfield Chambers situated in the town of Saint George, Grenada.
“In February 2013, the Claimant instructed the Defendant’s law firm, Francis Banfield Chambers to undertake a number of legal matters which pertained to the estate of his late grandparents. Hitherto these estates had been managed by a number of local law firms including Wilkinson, Wilkinson and Wilkinson, Amicus Attorneys and a lawyer described solely as Ashley Bernadine. Amicus Attorneys acted for the Claimant immediately preceding the Claimant’s instructions to the Defendant.
“The Claimant states that Amicus Attorneys handed over a sum of EC$92, 300.00, representing the reported residual sum of his inheritance held by Amicus Attorneys, to the Defendant (Francis Banfield Chambers). The Defendant has not provided a statement of account regarding this sum or given the Claimant this money.
As part of the Statement of Claim, Moller also gave the Court certain specifics with respect to the house that was allegedly sold by the law firm of Francis-Banfield to a Grenadian living in New York in the United States and involved in the Shipping business.
A document submitted in court by the local attorney who is the defendant in the case identified the purchaser of the mansion as “Gregory & Karron Modeste”.
The official court document said: “On the 7th June 2013, on the Claimant’s instructions, the Defendant sold his house, bequeathed to him by his late grandmother and situated at Westerhall Heights, for the sum of EC$450, 000.00. The house was valued at $EC992, 161.00 by an independent real estate Valuator and marketed for the sum of EC$750, 000.00.
“The claimant reserves the right to seek further disclosures relating to the sale of this house and the reasons for the sale having occurred at such a loss and further reserves the right to make a claim for any resulting loss identified if it is deemed that the Defendant was negligent”, the records on file stated.
According to the court files, Moller is contending that Francis-Banfield has not been making full disclosures to him with respect to the monies collected from the sale of the house to the Grenadian businessman living in New York.
The court document said in part: “The Claimant has been trying since June 2013, to get a statement of account as to the sale of his home and to receive the money obtained by the Defendant from the sale of said house. The Defendant has failed to provide the Claimant with either a statement of account or the money from the sale of the house.
“The Claimant has requested that all files and document on his affairs and held by the Defendant be transferred to the Claimant’s new legal representatives (Jacqueline Mc Kenzie). The Defendant has failed to do so thereby possibly hampering the Claimant’s ability to proceed aptly with his legal matters.
“As far as the Claimant knows, the Defendant has provided no known reasons for her failure to provide a statement of account regarding all of his financial affairs or to hand over his files to his new lawyer or to provide the money held by (them) and given to them by Amicus Attorneys or obtained from the sale of his house.
“Further, the Defendant has failed to respond to correspondence from his lawyers dated 10th September, 11th September, 18th September and 24th October 2013.
THE NEW TODAY also has in its possession the defense that was filed on December 13, 2103 for Francis-Banfield by Attorney-at-law, Sabrita Khan-Ramdhani, the wife of the former Senior Crown Counsel in Grenada, Darshan Ramdhani who is now serving as an Acting Judge in St. Kitts.
According to the document, Francis-Banfield has denied “each and every allegation” leveled against her by Moller in his court action.
Francis-Banfield pointed out in her defense that she never refused to account to Moller for the $EC450, 000.00 collected from the sale of the Westerhall Heights property.
The court documents pointed out that, “The Defendant (Francis-Banfield) denies having refused to provide to the Claimant any statement of account with regards to the sale of the property or any accounts as alleged. In fact the Defendant states that the Claimant (Moller) did not want the Statement of Accounts and insisted that the Defendant holds that sum. The money from the sale of the Claimant’s property is held in the Defendant’s client account a non interest bearing account”.
Francis-Banfield also told the court in her defense that she spent some of the monies handed over to her by Amicus Attorneys for use on Moller himself.
Well-placed sources told THE NEW TODAY that some of the monies referred to include about 2, 500.00 British pound sterling to help Moller and his family in their relocation from Grenada to Britain.
In respect to the funds from Amicus, Francis-Banfield said in her defense: “The said sum ($92, 329.59) has since been held in the Defendant’s client account which is a non-interest bearing account as directed by law. In any event payments have been made to and on behalf of the Claimant and his family from the said funds.
The local female attorney flatly denied the allegations, and told the court that “all statements of account have always been available” to Moller.
In recent times, Francis-Banfield has emerged as a high profile local attorney and among her clients is current Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Mitchell.
The Grenadian leader has retained her in a court matter in which he is seeking to remove Accountant Garvey Louison as the Liquidator in a case involving the now defunct GRENADA TODAY newspaper.
Francis-Banfield is among six local attorneys granted the status of “agent” to help process persons interested in buying Grenadian passports from Mitchell’s ruling New National Party (NNP) government under a so-called Citizenship by Investment Programme.
THE NEW TODAY spoke with Francis-Banfield on Tuesday but she declined to go into specifics of the lawsuit filed against her.
“This is a personal matter in court. Let the court decide. It is not unusual for lawyers to get sued by clients. I don’t want to have litigation in the public domain. If people are disgruntled and want to sue me then let them go ahead. I can’t stop that”, she said.
Although she was in violation of the court order, Francis-Banfield also declined to comment on whether the remainder of the monies owed to Moller, had been sent into the account in keeping with a commitment given to the English lawyer.
She referred this newspaper to her attorney, Sabrita Khan-Ramdhani who also shied away from answering the question about the remainder of the funds.
Khan insisted that the matter was currently before the court and did not want to comment on it.
There have been increasing reports in the country of local attorneys engaged in the misuse of funds given to them for safekeeping by several of their clients.