An Auckland lawyer who stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from clients, one of whom was a friend, was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison on Friday.
The New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal ordered that Richard Holland be struck off from the roll of barristers and solicitors in February, after he admitted to six charges of misconduct before the tribunal.
At the time, it also made orders relating to compensation and costs.
Three of the charges related to when he acted for a client, who was also a friend, in the sale of her property and received $200,000 as a share of the settlement proceeds.
He deducted $39,405 in legal fees and misappropriated and/or failed to account to his client for the balance of $160,595.
Holland then encouraged his client to sign a sham loan agreement purporting to document the money he had misappropriated as a loan from his client to himself.
Acting in another sale of property, he received $252,120 into his trust account and only paid his client $165,176. He admitted misappropriating or failing to account for $86,944. Holland also admitted misappropriating $4,600 when he acted for another client.
Another misconduct charge followed a New Zealand Law Society inspection of his trust account. This found that he had failed to keep proper trust account records as required by the trust account regulations.
At the time of the tribunal hearing that resulted in Holland being struck off, New Zealand Law Society president Chris Moore said lawyers acting in property matters were required to be scrupulous in their accounting.
“Because large sums of money are involved there are very strict rules and any failure to account is viewed extremely seriously,” he said.
At his sentencing at the Auckland District Court on Friday, Holland, who pleaded guilty to and was convicted of three counts of theft, was jailed for two years and six months.
The Law Society declined to comment about Holland’s jail sentence.