Criminal lawyer Alex Lewenberg may have defended his last client after he was found guilty of professional misconduct for pressuring a sexual abuse victim who had helped police.
The decision was handed down by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal after the veteran solicitor admitted asking a victim of notorious paedophile David Cyprys to stay silent because both victim and perpetrator were Jewish.
The Victorian Legal Services Commissioner made the accusations against Mr Lewenberg over two separate incidents where he said that the victim, known as AVB, shouldn’t help police.
In a verdict handed down by VCAT acting president Judge Pamela Jenkins on Thursday, Mr Lewenberg was found guilty of two charges of professional misconduct.
The finding could see Mr Lewenberg, 74, disbarred as a practicing lawyer.
Judge Jenkins said that Mr Lewenberg’s behaviour in suggesting the Jewish community should close ranks in the face of criminal prosecution was “truly shocking”.
She said that Mr Lewenberg’s use of words such as “moser” (a term for Jew who assists police) did not belong in the modern-day practise of law.
“The views which [Mr Lewenberg] expressed, as well as being clearly designed to condemn and disgrace AVB within his community, are utterly inconsistent with his obligations as a legal practitioner,” she said.
The charges were brought after two incidents that occurred when Mr Lewenberg was defending Cyprys on child sex charges.
In a secretly recorded telephone call in October 2011, Mr Lewenberg told AVB:
“I am not exactly delighted that another Yid would assist police against an accused, no matter whatever he is accused of and that is the reason why I was very disappointed,” Mr Lewenberg said.
“Because there is a tradition, if not a religious requirement, that you do not assist against Abraham.”
During a bail hearing at the Melbourne Magistrates Court a month earlier, Mr Lewenberg turned to the father of Cyprys and said:
“It is most disappointing when a person who has nothing to do with the case and being a fellow Jew does wilfully seek to hinder another Jew in his defence of criminal charges.”
In a hearing held last week, Mr Lewenberg admitted that he made the comments but said they should be taken in context of him representing Cyprys.
His lawyer, Jeremy Rushkin QC, said his client should face the lesser charge of unsatisfactory professional conduct.
But Judge Jenkins agreed with the Victorian Legal Services Commissioner that fellow legal practitioners would find Mr Lewenberg’s behaviour “disgraceful and dishonourable”.
“If such a position had been adopted by other Jews, it not only would have had the capacity to hamper the prosecution of a child sex offender,” she said.
“But, also, previously, to have allowed Mr Cyprys’ offending to continue for longer than it might otherwise have done.”
Penalties for professional misconduct can include the suspension of a lawyer’s practicing certificate and being struck off the Victorian roll.
Mr Lewenberg was previously banned from practising as a solicitor for two years in 1989 after he was found guilty of three charges of serious professional misconduct.
He was also fined $3000 when a Supreme Court judge found that he had acted disgracefully and dishonestly.
In a hearing, a judge described Mr Lewenberg’s attitude as being of “a devil-may-care kind, being wildly reckless of his professional responsibility”.
During his long career Mr Lewenberg has gained notoriety for representing an array of underworld figures. He has also been attacked several times, including with a baseball bat in his own office.
A further hearing will be held on April 6 to hear submissions on what sanctions Mr Lewenberg faces.