The state ombudsman has ruled a senior Adelaide lawyer, now responsible for disciplining other lawyers, committed maladministration and misconduct while chairing a State Government board.
Debra Lane was the presiding member of the Veterinary Surgeons Board of South Australia from 2008 to 2014.
In his investigation report, the ombudsman Wayne Lines found Ms Lane oversaw unauthorised payments to committee members during her six year term, and failed to appropriately respond when alerted to the problem.
The investigation found board members were paid a total of approximately $23,000 for committee meetings and “out of session” duties, contrary to what was allowed.
Ms Lane herself received about $8,760.
The ombudsman found Ms Lane also wrongfully ordered the board pay two parking fines she incurred worth a total of $136.
“The two expiation notices by their very nature should never have been satisfied by the board,” Mr Lines said.
His report found Ms Lane was alerted to potential problems with the unauthorised payments by the board’s registrar in June 2014.
But Ms Lane failed to seek immediate legal advice, citing “the Board’s parlous financial position.”
Mr Lines said that was no excuse.
SA Ombudsman Wayne Lines investigated Debra Lane’s conduct while she oversaw the Veterinary Surgeons Board. (ABC News: Nicola Gage)
“There is also a certain perversity in a public authority’s financial position being used to justify a failure to properly investigate the possible mismanagement of its funds.”
The ombudsman found Ms Lane later issued a direction to the Registrar of the Board to report only through her, and to not go elsewhere for guidance on board members.
“I consider the purpose of this direction was to prevent the nature and extent of the board’s greater remuneration practices coming to the attention of [the Department of Premier and Cabinet],” Mr Lines said.
Board’s conduct ‘improves’ following Ms Lane’s exit
Mr Lines said that since Ms Lane’s departure, the Veterinary Surgeons Board had improved its remuneration practices and taken action to recover the impugned payments.
But the Attorney General John Rau has confirmed Ms Lane remains a public officer – as member of both the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal and the Board of Examiners.
“Appointments to LPDT are not nominees of the Attorney-General or the government. All nominations are made by the Chief Justice,” Mr Rau said.
“Members of the Board of Examiners are appointed by the Chief Justice. As Attorney-General I nominate 2 of the 15 members. Ms Lane was not one of my nominations.”
“Accordingly I have written to the Chief Justice, providing a copy of the ombudsman’s report for his consideration.”
–Top Twitter To Follow: