Attorney clings to fee

THE Law Society of the Northern Provinces does not have the power to force attorneys, who withhold clients' funds, to pay Road Accident Fund victims.

THE Law Society of the Northern Provinces does not have the power to force attorneys, who withhold clients' funds, to pay Road Accident Fund victims.

All the organisation can do is refer an aggrieved client to a private attorney, Legal Aid or its board to intervene. They also do not have to give any guarantees to clients about future outcomes.

Because of all this Lilian Raphiri is a bitter woman .

Raphiri feels the Law Society is not acting in the best interest of poor people because they dismissed her complaint without attempting to find out whether her accusations were true.

Raphiri, who was involved in a car accident with her son, said she complained to the society about her attorney, Sylvester Mhangwane, who has been withholding her Road Accident Fund compensation since June 2009. They did not help her, but referred her to other institutions, she said.

"I expected the Law Society to intervene. To find out why their attorney is withholding my money would have been a consolation.

"At least they should have found out why he was doing so, instead of just closing my file without lifting a finger to help me," she said.

Raphiri and her son were injured while travelling in a taxi three years ago. Her son had a fractured right leg and she sustained a spinal injury, she said.

" I was confined to a wheelchair," Raphiri said.

She said she later enlisted the services of Sylvester Mhangwane, an attorney who has an office on the of corner of Jeppe and Von Wielligh streets in Johannesburg.

She said Mhangwane successfully lodged the road accident claim on their behalf and the RAF eventually paid out R55000 last June.

The money was deposited into the attorney's trust account on the same day, Raphiri said.

Raphiri was awarded compensation of R35000 and her son received R20000, she said.

Raphiri said she could have approached any attorney in Pretoria where she lives and works, but a friend advised her to go to Mhangawane.

"I regret ever using his services," Raphiri said.

She said there was no communication from her attorney at all.

"I was doing all the follow-ups because I did not want my claim to lapse," Raphiri said.

She said in October 2009 she phoned the RAF office to inquire about her claim and was told the money had already been paid to her attorney.

"The RAF also faxed me proof of payment, which I relied on as proof when I questioned Mhangwane about my money," she said.

Raphiri said Mhangwane told her she was pushy and that it took time before trust funds could be released to clients.

When she asked him how much time he still needed since he had received the money in June 2009, Mhangwane hung up the phone.

"I then used a private number, which he answered. He told me he would call me within two hours.

" I have not heard from him since January," Raphiri said.

She said Mhangwane had agreed to take 25percent in legal fees and pay her the balance of the money, "but it now seems he wants to take the entire compensation", Raphiri said.

She said she thinks that the RAF was on the right track when they said compensation should be paid directly into the accounts of the people who claimed from the fund.

"Had there been no objection to this proposal I would not be sitting with this problem," Raphiri said.

The system to pay compensation directly into accounts of claimants was reviewed and declared invalid and of no force or effect in June last year.

The Law Society of the Northern Provinces told Raphiri that they could not help her and referred her to an attorney, the Legal Aid board or a legal clinic for help. Then they closed her file.

Consumer Line is in possession of a letter dated February 15 2010 from the Law Society, which states that the powers of the council of the Law Society over attorneys in regards to complaints are of a disciplinary nature only and may not be used as an alternative to pursuit of legal remedies through court.

It also says that the Council has no powers to order an attorney to pay compensation to a client, nor can it take proceedings on a complainant's behalf against an attorney for his alleged negligence or lack of care when doing clients' work.

"But why did they encourage me to send my complaint if they knew that they were not going to entertain it?" Raphiri asked.

Mhangwane of Mhangwane Attorneys has not responded to Consumer Line 's email s.

The attorney does not answer his land line or cellphone, which does not give an option to leave a message.

lAt time of going to press the Law Society had a change of heart and will reopen and investigate Raphiri's complaint.