Behaviour of a disgraced lawyer struck off from the bar has been described as ‘reprehensible’ in a reserved decision released this week.
Davina Valerie Murray was struck off from the roll of barristers and solicitors following a New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal penalty hearing on February 26.
Murray was convicted under the Corrections Act for delivering an Apple iPhone, cigarettes and cigarette lighter to her client in Mt Eden Prison and was sentenced to 50 hours’ community work. The New Zealand Law Society declined to renew her practising certificate.
The Tribunal this week released their reasoning.
Murray’s behaviour during the conduct of her trial was deemed an aggravating factor.
“She was at times discourteous and unprofessional in her manner of self-representation, but more importantly … she falsely accused two prison offers of planting evidence on the prisoner,” the decision said.
“As an officer of the Court, to allow false evidence to be knowingly put before the Court is a very serious breach of ethics. It is probably one of the most reprehensible forms of conduct which can be undertaken by any trial lawyer.”
The decision also showed there had been three other adverse findings against Murray during the span of a five-year career.
The first transgression involved Murray receiving payment of fees directly from a client, breaching the intervention rule, and then failing to obtain an urgent order as instructed. She was found to have breached her obligations to have acted competently and in a timely fashion, and was ordered to refund the fees and pay costs to the Standards Committee.
The second indiscretion was deemed “a very serious matter” by the Committee.
Murray had acted for her partner in a domestic-related matter while in an intimate relationship with him, and after their relationship ended she contacted her former partner’s wife – who was represented by counsel –and disclosed confidential information to her against client/former partner’s interests.
“She further went on to engage in a similar breach of confidence when speaking with counsel for the former partner’s wife,” the decision said.
Murray was censured, fined $5000 and ordered to pay costs.
“We consider that Ms Murray was extremely lucky for that matter not to have been referred to the Tribunal by way of charges, involving as it did a serious breach of confidence in aggravating circumstances.”
A further finding of unsatisfactory conduct was made against Murray when, after that same partner committed suicide, she invoiced his estate for $67,000 in legal fees, despite numerous emails saying her service to him was free. The Committee fined Murray $10,000 and ordered her to pay costs and cancel her fee.
The Tribunal concluded that Murray was not a fit and proper person to continue in the legal practice.
“The entire picture presented by her offending, her subsequent conduct and her previous disciplinary history is of a practitioner with little or no understanding of her ethical obligations to clients, her profession or the institutions of justice,” the decision said.
No order was made against Murray for costs, given she is bankrupt.