A former lawyer who pocketed client cash has been suspended from practising for three years and ordered to pay more than $10,000 in costs.
The decision released by the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal revealed that the Waikato woman was representing a couple in a difficult transaction last year. She racked up $4000 in bills for the couple but was offered $2500 cash from the client, even though, as she acknowledged in the hearing, that firm would not have approved it.
She invoiced the client for $500 and pocketed the rest.
When her employer noticed the error days later, she admitted what he had done and returned the money before resigning. She then handed in her practising certificate and has not sought to practise since.
The woman was “being at a very low ebb and highly stressed”, the tribunal findings said and that at the time “seemed unable to put it right” although she regretted her actions.
According to a report by the NZ Herald
, the woman had an unblemished record of 15 years, had removed herself from the profession and sought appropriate medical support.
But the tribunal ordered a censure and costs to the Waikato Bay of Plenty Standards Committee of $6,008 and $5,820 against the New Zealand Law Society.
Counsel for the woman had applied to have the woman pay just a portion of the costs but the application was rejected, the tribunal saying that she had since been in fulltime employment and was therefore in a position to “bear the cost of this prosecution, brought by her profession because of her actions”.
Her application for name suppression was also rejected by the tribunal but a limited suppression was granted in regards to the name of her past and current employers. Her name was granted interim name suppression until the appeal period lapsed.