A lawyer faces bankruptcy after a barrister successfully sued him. But that is the least of Hector Ekes’ worries as his law firm is accused of misusing funds.
A lawyer faces bankruptcy after a barrister successfully sued him. But that is the least of Hector Ekes’ worries as his law firm is accused of misusing funds.

Sydney law firm accused of misusing funds

The NSW Law Society took over the management of a prominent Sydney law firm amid allegations over the ­misuse of funds and client ­intimidation.

CBD firm Gardner Ekes, operated by Hector Ekes, ­quietly closed its doors last year after a former employee caused the business to be wound up following a dispute over unpaid wages and the firm's trust account.

The Darlinghurst solicitor's licence to practice law has also lapsed but the 46-year-old, a former business partner of Manly NRL sponsor turned cocaine dealer Robert "Robby" Melhem, has plans to renew it.

According to creditor reports, the firm, operating under the company GE Law Pty Ltd, was wound up with liabilities of close to half a million dollars. As a ­result, in April, 2020 the NSW Law Society appointed solicitor Richard Savage to manage the Elizabeth St office.

It is understood the NSW Law Society is delving into how funds held in trust were managed at Gardner Ekes following complaints from clients about fees and questionable or non-existent invoices.

Hector Ekes’ law firm closed last year in the face of mounting bills and unpaid superannuation. Picture: News Corp
Hector Ekes’ law firm closed last year in the face of mounting bills and unpaid superannuation. Picture: News Corp

The Law Society would not comment on the appointment due to legal constraints.

Mr Ekes, whose office windowa former firm colourful business identity Jim Byrnes famously smashed with a baseball bat in 2006, is now facing bankruptcy.

A Sydney barrister successfully sued him last year over $128,000 in unpaid fees. According to a bankruptcy notice, the debt hasn't been paid. Former clients and ­employees, who have provided information to the Law Society investigation, spoke to The Saturday Telegraph about the culture inside the firm and their turbulent ­experiences.

Brisbane mother Susan Huybers hired Mr Ekes in 2015 to represent her in civil proceedings involving a former accountant.

Ms Huybers claims to have been billed almost $600,000 for Gardner Ekes' services, often making payments in ­response to last minute ­requests via text, call or email.

"It would be the day before your case was to be mentioned in court and he would suddenly demand more fees," she said.

"I would be a wound up mess trying to get the money."

Colourful business figure Jim Byrnes was convicted in 2006 of smashing Mr Ekes’ office window. Picture: News Corp
Colourful business figure Jim Byrnes was convicted in 2006 of smashing Mr Ekes’ office window. Picture: News Corp

Ms Huybers claimed Mr Ekes yelled at her on a number of occasions, including calling her an "idiot" during a tirade in his office while they were preparing for a case to be heard the next day in NSW ­Supreme Court in mid-2016.  Ms Huybers said she had repeatedly asked for her file from Gardner Ekes over the past three years.

In November, 2017, a cost assessor reviewing Ms Huybers' legal costs found Gardner Ekes had claimed "significant costs" for work that appeared straightforward, including $200 to forward an email, and that Ms Huybers' legal bill was about $100,000 more than was "fair and reasonable".

When contacted by this newspaper, Mr Ekes, who had previously been found guilty of professional misconduct and had his certificate suspended, denied any wrong­doing and was confident of resuming his practice in 2021.

Hector Ekes and wife, Wajiha Ahmed, on their wedding day in 2003. Picture: Matt Reed
Hector Ekes and wife, Wajiha Ahmed, on their wedding day in 2003. Picture: Matt Reed

He confirmed he had been approached by the Law Society and said some outstanding issues had been ­resolved.

"There have been no complaints made against me from any former clients," Mr Ekes said.

"I spoke to (the law society) five months ago. They have asked questions about former files that they thought were still active but they weren't. Every client had a cost agreement, received itemised invoices taxable as the work was happening and it was issued and paid."

Another former client also described receiving urgent ­requests from Mr Ekes ­demanding additional legal fees immediately and before receiving an invoice. The client alleges he spent more than $1 million and claims some funds didn't go where they were meant to, including towards a settlement to remove a caveat from his property.

The Gardner Ekes office in Elizabeth St was closed in 2019. Picture: Tim Hunter
The Gardner Ekes office in Elizabeth St was closed in 2019. Picture: Tim Hunter

However, according to a complaint emailed to the Law Society, Gardner Ekes told the client the money was fully ­accounted for in invoices.

The client, who is now facing eviction, received a text message from Mr Ekes demanding to know "why the duck (sic)" he had a copy of the Law Society's notice of ­appointment of Mr Savage.

"F**k off your (sic) full of shit," Ekes wrote, according to messages seen by The Saturday Telegraph.

"Mark your next words carefully."

A former employee claimed Mr Ekes instructed staff to deposit cash into various CBD banks or to leave in envelopes for people to collect from the office.

Clients would report ­receiving messages late at night about the urgent need for thousands of dollars to continue their matter.

"Clients would come in, dumbfounded, saying I put in $20,000 into the trust account, why do you need more?" she said.

"We would have to apologise but know nothing about it, there would be no invoice."

Mr Ekes told The Saturday Telegraph invoices were iss­ued automatically and denied they were ever backdated.

Originally published as Sydney law firm accused of misusing funds


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