Fired lawyer switches camp

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MASERU — A prominent Maseru lawyer has turned against a client he once represented. 

Advocate Hopolang Nathane once represented ’Mamatlakala Maphisa in a case in which she was suing one Pule Cheko, Maputsoe Properties (Pty) Ltd and Total Lesotho (Pty) Ltd over a piece of land in Maputsoe.

The land is in Ha-Nyenye in Maputsoe town.

It was developed into a filling station and a business complex by the Maputsoe Properties (Pty) Ltd which had bought it from Cheko.

Maputsoe Properties leased the filling station to Total Lesotho.

But Maphisa challenged the sale arguing that Cheko did not have claim to the land because he had no title deeds.

In an earlier court battle the High Court had ruled that indeed Maphisa was the rightful owner of the land.

The judgment found that Cheko had a lease agreement while Maphisa had a title deed on the same site but this was an error made by the Commissioner of Lands.

Both Cheko and Maputsoe Properties have not disputed this judgment.

Maphisa then instructed Nathane to lodge a claim of M3.5 million against Cheko, Maputsoe Properties and Total Lesotho on grounds that the complex and the filling station were built on her land. 

But instead of taking the matter for trial Nathane negotiated an out of court settlement with Total Lesotho which, apparently, had volunteered to settle the matter to avoid a disruption to their business operations. 

Total Lesotho agreed to pay Maphisa M150 000 as compensation but she rejected the deal saying Nathane had negotiated the settlement without her permission.

Angered, Maphisa immediately ditched Nathane.

Now Nathane has turned against Maphisa and is going to give evidence against her when her lawsuit against Total Lesotho, Cheko and Maputsoe Properties goes to court.

He has since written an affidavit supporting Total Lesotho’s defence against Maphisa.

Total Lesotho will use his affidavit in its court battles against Maphisa.

It is unethical for a lawyer to testify against a former client in the same case they represented them.

This is because the relationship between a lawyer and a client is based on confidentiality and trust.

It is like admitting to a lawyer that you committed a crime and then the lawyer uses that confidential information to testify against you.

Haae Phoofolo, a prominent Maseru lawyer, described such behaviour as “unethical and unacceptable”.

“It is unethical because a lawyer knows all confidential information of a former client and is at a high risk of divulging such information to that other party,” Phoofolo said.

“It is wrong because lawyers take an oath of confidentiality. Such an act is called conflict of interest and it is unwelcome.”

In his affidavit Nathane insists that Maphisa had given him instructions to settle the matter with Total Lesotho out of court.

“I (insist) that in accepting the offer of settlement, I acted with the authority of the plaintiff (Maphisa),” he says.

“As I have explained, while Total Lesotho (Pty) Ltd is not a direct party to the action, it has a considerable commercial interest in the action being the holder of the three mortgage bonds over the property.

“Equally it made commercial sense for my then client, the plaintiff, to settle the matter with an entity which had the funds to do so whether or not it was a direct party to the litigation.

“I point out and respectfully submit that there is no reason why a third party cannot pay the claim of another litigant so as to settle the matter for its own commercial convenience regardless (of) whether or not it is a party to the litigation.”

Nathane declined to comment when approached.

“I am not going to comment because this matter is in the hands of the courts,” Nathane said last Friday.

“I will not comment even if the bulk of your story is on me as a person as long as it is related to the case that is being dealt with by the courts,” he said, adding: “It will be improper.”

Maphisa has since reported Nathane to the Law Society of Lesotho, a statutory body that regulates the professional conduct of lawyers.

Maphisa wants Nathane punished for allegedly settling with Total Lesotho without her consent.

The Law Society is yet to hear the case.

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