Lawyer jailed for $34,000 theft from clients

A FORMER Devonport lawyer who stole more than $34,000 from his clients was once an up-and-coming Reserve Bank economist, a court has heard.

Gregory Brian O'Rourke, 46, was jailed in the Launceston Supreme Court yesterday for two years, with eight months suspended for three years upon release.

Justice Robert Pearce also imposed a non-parole period of eight months and ordered O'Rourke to pay $10,147 compensation to the clients who were still owed money.

O'Rourke had previously pleaded guilty to nine counts of stealing and one count of having perverted justice.

He stole a total of $34,321.76 between October 2008 and April 2012 .

O'Rourke drew money from his firm's trust account, made the cheques payable to himself and deposited the money into his personal bank account.

Most amounts ranged between $20 and $3000 and represented unused portions of clients' money, which should have been returned to them.

Justice Pearce said O'Rourke devised and implemented a means of hiding his dishonesty by printing and filing cheques using his firm's computer, but then presenting handwritten cheques to the bank.

"It is an aggravating factor that each theft by the defendant constituted a breach of the trust that his clients had placed in him," Justice Pearce said.

"Dishonesty by persons in a position of trust are already more serious than other types of dishonesty.

"Defalcations by solicitors are particularly serious."

Outside court, Law Society of Tasmania spokesman Rohan Foon, a Launceston lawyer, declined to comment on whether O'Rourke, whose practising certificate had been suspended, would be struck off the roll of practitioners.

However, Mr Foon said that course of action usually followed such offending.

The largest amount O'Rourke stole was $24,093.15 which came from a deceased estate, received in May 2008.

He failed to tell his clients about the money until June 2012, when he knew the Law Society of Tasmania was investigating him.

O'Rourke lied to his clients about his discovery of the money owed to them, and repaid the money, with interest.

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