‘Ashamed’ lawyer bombed bagged booze in court carpark
THE legal career of a high-profile Brisbane solicitor hangs in the balance after he was caught in his car with a blood alcohol reading more than five times over the legal limit.
Neil Robert Lawler, the managing partner of Brisbane firm Lawler Magill, on Thursday told a court he was "deeply ashamed" after he was caught with a blood alcohol reading of .270 per cent in his car outside the Maroochydore Magistrates Court in January.
He pleaded guilty in the Brisbane Magistrates Court to one charge of being in charge of a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol.
Police alleged Lawler had been drinking beer and scotch the night before the offence and had driven from Brisbane to the Sunshine Coast court to represent a client when he was found intoxicated in his car after the case.
The allegation prompted Chief Magistrate Terry Gardiner to question the police prosecutor why Lawler hadn't instead been charged with the more serious offence of drink driving.
"It seems extraordinary to me," he said of the lower charge.
But Lawler argued his drinking the previous night wasn't "necessarily relevant" because he had consumed the alcohol after his court appearance on the day.
"What happened is I left the courthouse, I went and bought some alcohol having received some devastating news about a long-term relationship (break-up) and I drank," he said.
"I left the courthouse, went and purchased the alcohol and there was some (alcohol) in a bag in the car and I drank a lot really quickly.
"I returned to the courthouse to obtain my sunglasses which I left behind on the bar table then realised I was in no fit state to drive my car, I returned to my vehicle which was in the car park to give my mobile phone some charge.
"I was in no fit state to drive but I had to turn the vehicle on and I stupidly entered the vehicle."
Lawler told the court he had been charging his phone and looking for accommodation for the night when police found him in the car.
The lawyer said he had been under a lot of pressure after members of his legal firm, including his partner Adam Magill, were charged with serious criminal offences.
"My firm is called Lawler Magill, certain members of my firm, not including me I might add, are under investigation by the Crime and Corruption Commission, that's been going on since April 2017," he said.
"So that's put me as the only managing partner under significant pressure and I've tried very hard to not drink … "
The court heard Lawler had sought medical help for alcohol dependency and he was on a waiting list for a rehabilitation facility.
"I'm ashamed, deeply ashamed and I'm taking positive steps to try and fix the problem," he said.
Magistrate Gardiner said his sentence needed to make clear the community denounced Lawler's conduct.
"I accept that you are deeply ashamed of your conduct," he said.
"You're a legal practitioner and an officer of the court and your conduct as a lawyer may impact on the level of community confidence in the profession.
"When you signed the roll when you were admitted as a solicitor you joined a profession, that profession that you inherited was built up by men and women who spent their careers upholding the best traditions of the profession.
"The hallmarks of that profession include service both to the community and the court to ensure the proper administration of justice, honesty, integrity and adherence to ethical standards."
Lawler was sentenced to 12 months' probation and ordered to do 100 hours of community service.
His drivers licence was disqualified for 15 months and a conviction was recorded against him.
Lawyers convicted of an offence are obliged to inform the Queensland Law Society about any penalty or conviction.
The executive committee of the QLS then considers whether to call on the solicitor to show cause as to why he should not have his practising certificate suspended, cancelled or have conditions placed on it.