Now that the dust around the sentencing of attorney-at-law Vonda Pile has settled, there is perhaps no better time than now for the legal profession to take a long hard look in the mirror.
The maxim, “To whom much is given, much is expected,” must be resonating among lawyers as one of their number begins a three-year stretch in prison.
A month earlier she had been found guilty of stealing $191,416.39 from her client, Anstey King, between April 2009 and October 2010.
While some lawyers have been remanded to prison in the past, Pile is the first to be convicted and jailed for criminal misconduct in her law practice.
In handing down the decision, Justice Beckles acknowledged that Pile had breached the trust placed in her by her client. To whom much was given…
Justice Beckles spoke of the need to “maintain public confidence in the administration of justice”.
She said from the bench: “We need to send a strong message to society that such behaviour will not be tolerated and will be dealt with firmly.
“The court considers that three years is the appropriate starting point for a determination of your sentence.”
That needed to be said.
Even after Pile had been remanded, talk was rife that she would have avoided jail time simply because she was an attorney-at-law.
Arguments were made as to why and how she would have been given either community service, placed on a bond, or merely made to pay a fine for her transgression.
It has been the general feeling in Barbados that lawyers have been allowed to “get away with” while the law book is thrown at garden variety criminals.
The fact that Pile is the first to be sentenced to prison has somehow helped to stoke that fire.
Almost on a daily basis, people who are found guilty of theft – from box juices to jewellery – are given prison sentences.
In most instances where lawyers find themselves before the courts for either theft or misappropriation of funds, the amount of money involved is substantial.
A message needed to be sent that lawyers are measured by the same yardstick as any other citizen. No one is above the law.
We applaud the new president of the Bar Association, Rosalind Smith-Millar, for stating that all lawbreakers should receive equal treatment.
While saying that she had full faith in the judicial system, Smith-Millar insisted that any lawyer who was convicted of a crime should be prepared to do the time.
Smith-Millar said: “We are supposed to be officers of the court and held to a very high standard of conduct, particularly when it comes to honesty and dealing with our clients’ money and other assets.
“If people flout the law and all of the normal procedures are gone through, whatever consequence ensues there is no reason why lawyers should be exempt from those consequences.
“I have every faith in our justice system to dispense justice where it is required.”
It is critical that we continue to have faith in our judicial system and that no particular group of individuals is favoured.
Lawyers shouldn’t need a jail sentence to tell them to be honest at all times and always act professionally when their services are retained.
And while lawyers, like any human, will always be tempted, it is imperative that they act in the best interest of their clients first and foremost.
Much was given to Vonda Minerva Pile. Now, we expect her to pay her debt to society. We also expect all our lawyers to learn a vital lesson from a sobering tale.