NSW solicitor reprimanded for misconduct

·3-min read

The solicitor of former university dean Dianne Jolley, who was convicted over a fake letter campaign to herself, has been reprimanded for professional misconduct.

The Civil and Administrative Tribunal found Aaron Kernaghan guilty of professional misconduct following proceedings brought by the NSW Law Society council.

He has been ordered to complete an ethics tutorial, and has been restricted for four years to only practising law as an employee, as a corporate or government legal practitioner, or as a volunteer at a community legal service.

Former UTS professor and dean Dianne Jolley employed Mr Kernaghan in 2019 when she was charged for sending herself fake letters and other items including her own underwear.

Judge Ian Bourke was unable to arrive at a clear conclusion as to why she had gone to such extreme measures in committing her "somewhat bizarre offences," he said in sentencing her to an intensive corrections order in October 2021.

The previous month Jolley wrote to the tribunal that the solicitor had always maintained exceptional professional behaviour, and consistently demonstrated a high level of integrity and honesty in all his dealings with her.

"She has no hesitation in retaining his services as her solicitor and believes it would be a disservice to the profession and the community should he no longer be able to practise law."

The solicitor who relocated from Wollongong to Sydney admits he was out of his depth without the necessary business or administration skills when he began trading as Kernaghan and Associates in 2010.

By 2011 Mr Kernaghan found the financial side of running his own practice overwhelming and hired a bookkeeper, but they ceased working for him in mid-2014.

He was responsible for issuing cost disclosures but did not always check they were sent. As the firm became busier he began insisting clients pay funds up front, and these were done into an office account when they should have been paid into a trust, the tribunal found.

By 2015 he had fallen behind on payments to the Australian Taxation Office, with a total amount owing of $250,000. He paid nearly $210,000 but mistakenly thought he had finalised the entire amount owed.

In February 2016 his cash flow issues were "dire" and he was late paying back the ATO instalments, and his practice was closed in March.

Two weeks after liquidators were appointed Mr Kernaghan said he was mentally struggling, had moved back to his parents' house and was referred for anxiety and severe depression by a doctor.

In 2015 he worked extensively in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, representing many case studies.

His involvement was described as extremely challenging, and required frequent travel between Wollongong, Mangrove Mountain and Sydney, and caused him to experience panic attacks.

"He realises in hindsight that in his professional work he had become belligerent at times," the tribunal stated.

"And he regrets that the same sentiment of belligerence appears to have affected his conduct of these proceedings, and in particular the affidavit and submissions he prepared when representing himself."

The tribunal also ordered Mr Kernaghan to establish a therapeutic relationship with a treating psychiatrist.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting