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Court battle over Don’s legal fees

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In 2013 a court order was granted to release R500 000 from the estate of Don Steenkamp senior to fund the legal fees, where Heckroodt was requested by the court to assist in the administration of the funds.

The former legal representative for Don Steenkamp was convicted in 2014, for the murder of his family as well as the rape of his younger sister Marthella, is taking legal steps to recover money that is owed to him. Seen here are Stoffel de Jager and Bennie Heckroodt. Picture: Lizéll Muller

RETIRED attorney Stoffel de Jager and Bennie Heckroodt, the guardian of Don Steenkamp who was convicted for the infamous Griekwastad murders, have become embroiled in a bitter wrangle over who is liable for the outstanding legal fees for the trial . . . an amount of R244 914, plus interest.

Summons letters as well as lawyers letters were sent last year, demanding payment.

Cornelius Plooys van Amstel, a senior advocate from Bloemfontein, filed an application in the Northern Cape High Court for the legal fees to be paid within the next 10 days.

He argued that the rate that was charged at R2 800 per hour or daily rate of R28 000 for services rendered between September 9 and October 11 2013, was reasonable and in line with the accepted tariffs.

Steenkamp is serving a 20-year sentence after he was found guilty of murdering his father Deon, mother Christel and 14-year-old sister Marthella on their farm Naauwhoek near Griekwastad in April 2012.

The family members died of multiple gunshot wounds.

Steenkamp, 21, was also found guilty of raping Marthella as well as defeating the ends of justice.

He was 15 years old at the time the crimes were committed.

De Jager was appointed as Don Steenkamp’s legal representative by his grandfather, Don Steenkamp senior.

Steenkamp senior, who was the executor of Don’s deceased parents’ estate, also made a commitment to pay for his legal fees.

Heckroodt, who became Don Steenkamp’s guardian following his grandfather’s death, denied that any agreement existed between him and Van Amstel or that he, at any stage, had appointed De Jager as his attorney, agent or legal representative.

He also denied that he had ever agreed to pay for any of the legal fees incurred during the trial.

Heckroodt claimed that his signature was falsified on documents that were apparently signed in De Jager’s offices where the original documents could not be produced for inspection.

In 2013 a court order was granted to release R500 000 from the estate of Don Steenkamp senior to fund the legal fees, where Heckroodt was requested by the court to assist in the administration of the funds.

Heckroodt consequently requested the Master of the High Court in November 2013 to, amongst others, pay Van Amstel an amount of R170 000 and De Jager R82 345.

In December 2013 the Master of the High Court requested Heckroodt to pay R500 000 into De Jager’s trust whereby he paid R330 000 (inclusive of the R170 000) into De Jager’s trust account.

According to a breakdown of expenses as of November 30 2013, R20 430 was paid for forensic ballistic services, while the combined costs for three advocates who appeared in the Northern Cape High Court amounted to R625 135.

During the course of the trial, mention was made over utilising the services of Legal Aid South Africa.

However, during closing arguments, the advocates threatened to withdraw their services due to non-payment.

Heckroodt discovered that De Jager had not made any arrangements to secure services from the state.

He explained that he was under the impression that all legal costs would be funded from Don Steenkamp senior’s estate or Legal Aid South Africa.

He then terminated the services of De Jager, Advoc


ate Sharon Erasmus and Advocate Willem Coetzee and appointed attorney Riaan Bode for the remainder of the trial.

Heckroodt pointed out that he had no ulterior motives other than intending “to assist the boy”

He added that he acted in the best interests of the minor, on the basis of a document signed by his grandfather who promised to take care of his grandson’s legal costs.

He insisted that De Jager should pay the advocate fees, as he had given Van Amstel instructions.

“It was later discovered that Don Steenkamp senior was not responsible for paying the legal costs.”

He indicated that the Van Amstel account was extraordinarily inflated.

Legal representative for Van Amstel, Advocate L Le R Pohl SC, pointed out that at no stage had Heckroodt indicated that he was not De Jager’s client, nor that he would not be responsible for payment.

He added that Heckroodt had attended all consultations and court appearances with De Jager and had given him instructions.

“Heckroodt agreed orally as well as in writing on October 28 2013, to pay the legal fees.”

It was pointed out that it only came to light in 2017 when Heckroodt filed a notice to oppose the payment of the outstanding fees to De Jager and Van Amstel.

Attorney Adrian B Horwitz, who is acting on behalf of De Jager, stated that had been diagnosed with dementia.

“I consulted with De Jager before he was hospitalised in Cape Town. He furnished me with instructions to defend these proceedings on September 19 2016, in Kimberley.

“De Jager denies accepting joint liability with Heckroodt for Van Amstel’s account and does not have locus standi to be sued.”

He added that De Jager had at all times acted as an agent on behalf of his client (Heckroodt), in terms of an oral agreement entered into in 2013, to brief Van Amstel on a Supreme Court matter involving Heckroodt versus Elizabeth Vermaak and six others.

Vermaak and Mariana Smit were appointed as the executors of Don Steenkamp senior’s estate.

Heckroodt had consulted with De Jager regarding the future payment of Don’s legal fees following his grandfather’s death.

In his plea, attorney A Booysen pointed out that De Jager had identified Heckroodt as the principal debtor, where he stated that he acted at all relevant times upon his instructions.

“De Jager denies that the reason why Heckroodt failed and/or neglected and/or refused to pay the invoices submitted to him was due to him not carrying out the mandate with the due and proper care, skill or diligence of a senior counsel with his experience.”

He added that Heckroodt had accepted the hourly rate charged by the advocate and was liable for the payment thereof.

“However, De Jager denies that he, at any stage, conceded that a fee of R244 914 would be a fair and reasonable charge for the handling of an application.

“The official record, which only runs to 148 pages, and the difference between the fee ultimately charged and what was expected is grossly unreasonable.”

Booysen argued that an advocate was responsible for the collection and recovery of his own fees.