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  • SA woman in Australia’s most expensive divorce claims Melbourne law firm drained her trust, left her with just $5 to fight case
  • By Sean Fewster
  • 10/02/2016 Make a Comment
  • Contributed by: Belinda ( 1 article in 2016 )
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“UNFAIR”: Woman sues lawyers over $4.6 million divorce bill
RESTRICTION: Woman wants divorce case kept from ex-husband
BLAMED: Lawyers blame former partner for divorcee’s huge bill
DEAL: Divorcee wants settlement with four counsel, sues fifth

SHE and her ex-husband have spent almost $40 million on their divorce over 11 years — now an Adelaide woman claims her lawyers left her with just $5 to fight her case.

The eastern suburbs woman, who cannot be named, has filed Supreme Court action against Winter and Co, based in Melbourne, and solicitor Michael Winter.

She says the firm handled her case for five years without sending her an account and, when it did, offered an “inadequate and illegible” record of the draining of her trust.

“The divorce case has required my ex-husband to pay in the order of $1.6 million to Winter and Co’s trust account for my matter,” she asserts in her affidavit.

“As the trust account statement shows, there’s now $5.25 left.

“From what I have seen and what I know of my matters, I believe my divorce is far from ready for trial ... the $5.25 left is no help.”

Winter and Co is based in Frankston, Victoria, and is not affiliated with SV Winter & Co, which is based in Bourke St in Melbourne.

The woman and her ex-husband, who lives between Adelaide and several international locations, cannot be named because of their separate Family Court case, which began in 2005.

It is understood the woman is seeking a multi-million dollar property settlement, and millions in child support, from her ex-husband.

Her claim against Winter and Co is the second time she has taken Supreme Court action against a law firm that has represented her.

In 2010, she sued Donaldson Walsh, claiming its $4.12 million bill was “unfair and unreasonable”.

She asserted the firm needlessly generated 23,000 documents and 480,000 computer files — enough to fill 182 archive boxes — about the matter.

Documents filed in that case asserted that, by 2010, the woman had paid a total of $10.5 million in legal fees due to the divorce, while her ex-husband had paid $26 million.

In 2012, Donaldson Walsh moved to distance itself from the dispute, offering to pay $800,000 but claiming former partner Alan Branch should foot the rest of the refund.

That lawsuit, which has since resolved out of court, outlasted the career of the judge presiding over it.

Judge Robert Lunn retired from the bench in August 2013 mid-case, saying he was “not volunteering to come back” to hear further argument.

In her claim against Winter and Co, the woman said she engaged the firm’s services in 2010.

“I am not skilled in the area of legal expertise and I’ve relied on Winter and Co, and other lawyers, during my difficult divorce,” she said in her affidavit.

“Across the second half of 2015, I lost confidence in Mr Winter progressively, reaching a stage where I felt no available option other than to terminate my involvement with him.

“Late last year, I required them to provide me with a trust account statement ... I find it to be inadequate, illegible in parts and of concern.”

A photocopy of the account, attached to the court file, runs several pages of handwritten entries in a spreadsheet-style ledger format.

It shows that, among other expenses, the firm spent $6000 for airfares, $10,000 on barristers, $500 on photocopying and more than $412,000 attributed to “fees”.

“(The account) details takings from the trust, by the firm for themselves, in the amount of $704,026.59,” the woman said in her affidavit.

“I’ve not given any authority, ever, for them to transfer money to themselves.”

The woman asks the court fix Winter and Co’s costs at $10,000, then reduce them by a further 50 per cent given “the extent of the default as to costing”.

She also asks the firm be ordered to repay the $704,026.59 into the trust account so that she and her new counsel may use those funds in her divorce case.

Winter and Co has yet to file a defence to the lawsuit.

The dispute has been adjourned until March, when Winter and Co will present the court with a detailed costs report.


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