'Cult' leader's lawyer to be investigated over her behaviour
A NORTHERN Rivers solicitor will be referred to the Legal Services Commission over her behaviour while she was representing the "leader of a socially harmful cult".
Paula Fletcher, of Universal Law, represented Universal Medicine founder Serge Isaac Benhayon in his unsuccessful defamation case against blogger and former client Esther Rockett.
Justice Julia Lonergan last month handed down her decision to refer Ms Fletcher to the legal watchdog, however there was a 28-day stay allowing the lawyer to lodge any appeal.
The matter returned to the Sydney Supreme Court yesterday and Ms Fletcher lodged no such appeal.
A jury last year found imputations published by Ms Rockett about Mr Benhayon, including that he led a "socially harmful cult" and was "a charlatan" who "preys on cancer patients", to be "substantially true".
After Justice Lonergan ordered Mr Benhayon pay the blogger's costs, she called for a further hearing into why Ms Fletcher should not be referred for potential disciplinary action.
This was partly due to a lengthy letter she sent Ms Rockett the day of her father's funeral in September, 2017, along with an earlier letter within the same week.
Mr Rockett was representing herself at that time.
In a statement, Ms Rockett welcomed the decision and said she was seeking to have Ms Fletcher pay her legal costs for the additional hearings since April 10 this year.
"Ms Fletcher represented Mr Benhayon since 2012 in making numerous defamation, copyright infringement, and trademark infringement complaints about my blogs (and publications by third parties) to the Wordpress blogging platform, and to Google Inc," Ms Rockett said.
"No action was taken on the copyright and trademark infringement complaints, however, as a result of the complaints to Google URL links to my blogs (and publications by third parties) were removed from the Google search index.
"Universal Law sent none of the complaints to me.
"Google undertook the removals without a court order and without notice to me or any other publishers. I discovered this myself and wrote to Google and requested copies of the complaints, which they forwarded."
Ms Rockett noted Ms Fletcher also represented Judith McIntyre, a benefactor of Mr Benhayon's who died from breast cancer in 2014.
"Ms McIntyre gifted Mr Benhayon $800,000 in the weeks before she died, and left him the majority of her estate (approx. $600k), favouring him over her two children," she said.
"The interactions between Benhayon and Judith McIntyre formed part of the evidence that proved Benhayon's predatory conduct and undue influence on a cancer patient," Ms Rockett said.
"The correspondence during that period that Ms Fletcher was solicitor for both benefactor and beneficiary demonstrates that she was aware of Benhayon's influence on Mrs McIntyre.
"Furthermore, Mr Benhayon gave evidence at the trial listing a series of juvenile girls who had stayed in his home since 1994 unaccompanied by a parent or guardian.
"Ms Fletcher's daughter Emmalee first stayed on weekends in the Benhayon home in 2007 at the age of 15 and resided there from age 17 prior to marrying Michael Benhayon."
Meanwhile, a UM-affiliated Women in Livingness event run by Mr Benhayon's daughter, Natalie Benhayon, was held in Brisbane at the weekend.
Ms Rockett said there'd been "no change to their operations" since the jury's findings last year.
"The organisation has made no public acknowledgement of the court's findings and has given no assurance to the public that it is attempting to address the serious findings about its misleading conduct and other harmful activities," she said.
"The group's behaviour since the trial confirms the jury made the correct decision in finding it is a socially harmful cult."
Any submissions on Ms Rockett's application for costs must be filed to the court by July 29.