Toronto solicitor removed from lawyer roll after bizarre explanations for trust fund breaches

TORONTO solicitor Steven John Connolly was the best in the business when it came to bizarre explanations for not doing his job or keeping commitments.

When an angry client turned up at his office in 2013 and demanded her file and $2000 deposit back, Mr Connolly, 38, pulled out his mobile phone and showed her photos of his testicles.

He’d had trouble with testicular cancer, he said, and pointed to a scar on a testicle in one of the photos as proof.

The client replied that she wanted her file and her money, and then lodged a complaint about him.

When the Law Society of NSW was trying to strike him off the roll in 2015 for matters including client trust fund breaches, Mr Connolly said he couldn’t properly defend himself because he was still traumatised after being kidnapped and threatened with his life.

He told the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal he’d done nothing wrong after the Law Society pursued disciplinary proceedings against him. He said his trust fund and money problems were the result of a conspiracy by people trying to concoct allegations against him.

When the Law Society pursued professional misconduct action against him in the tribunal from 2016, Mr Connolly repeatedly said he was too unwell to attend hearings or defend himself. When the tribunal asked for documents he insisted vindicated him, he didn’t produce them.

When he finally appeared at the tribunal for the first time on March 1, accompanied by his father, Mr Connolly said he was not guilty of misconduct but the victim of a conspiracy, and asked to be excused because hearing the case against him would be re-traumatising.

The tribunal agreed and heard the matter without him.

He seems to have been continually scrambling for funds and was prepared to ‘bend the rules’ to enable him to acquire monies to pay overheads.

NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal

He was removed from the roll of local lawyers on March 23 for professional misconduct, unethical conduct and behaving inappropriately towards a client after evidence including text messages sent by him to a junior solicitor about clients’ deposited funds.

In one he urged the junior solicitor to bank client cheques straightaway because “otherwise I won’t have clear funds for wages next week”.

In another he referred to transferring client money from the trust fund to the office account because “balance is $3 in office account so urgently required”.

“He would telephone me and tell me that he had taken money out of the trust account and that I had to raise a tax invoice on a particular matter and predate it. I would not do it. That is the reason I left. He would get my tax invoices and bump them up,” the junior solicitor. 

He also asked her to invoice a client to say he had spent “time reading file, consultation, letter etc”, when he hadn’t.

“He seems to have been continually scrambling for funds and was prepared to ‘bend the rules’ to enable him to acquire monies to pay overheads,” the tribunal found.

He had “a certain incapacity to conduct a law practice”.

The tribunal said Mr Connolly had not provided definitive evidence about his current medical state. It noted the trust fund withdrawals and testicle incident occurred at least two years before the alleged traumatic kidnapping.

Mr Connolly was “clearly guilty of professional misconduct” of “a most serious kind” which conflicted with the standards expected of lawyers, the tribunal found. He was removed from the roll of lawyers.

“There can be no controversy in stating that solicitors are required to act ethically. Such a requirement is one of the integral pillars upon which the due administration of the law is based,” it said.

Mr Connolly, now on a disability pension, was ordered to pay the Law Society’s costs.