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Fined for being disrespectful to court registrar

10 October 2016

A lawyer, B, who was disrespectful to a District Court registrar has been reprimanded and fined $1,000 by a lawyers standards committee.

The registrar complained to the New Zealand Law Society about B, who had approached her at the registrar’s bench and demanded that her matter be called after the adjournment.

The registrar said that when B was told this could not be done, her behaviour became verbally offensive and unacceptable. The registrar, who is of South East Asian heritage, claimed that B told her that she should “go back to North Korea and work in the camp there”.

B claimed that she appeared in court for a hearing scheduled for 10am. When she could not locate her client, she approached the registrar for assistance. B claimed that the registrar was unhelpful from the start. After some persistence, however, the registrar informed her that the case was scheduled to be heard at 11:45am.

B, who was unavailable at 11:45am, claimed that scheduling changes were frequently made to cases at the particular District Court without notification to defence counsel.

In submissions made on behalf of B, it was admitted she made a general statement in court at that time in relation to court staff as follows: “perhaps Court staff who changed the dates and times of cases without letting defence counsel know might prefer to either apply for a job (or work in) a country that doesn’t have defence counsel such as North Korea”.

The standards committee said it was always problematic to determine exactly what had been said where conflicting versions were provided.

However, if the standards committee accepted [B]’s version of events as being the correct version, the committee’s view was that such a statement, in the presence of someone whose appearance could be seen as being of Asian descent, was still capable of being taken personally and considered to be discriminatory in its intent.

B explained that that her comment was not personally directed at the registrar but rather at court staff who “do not keep defence counsel in the picture when making scheduling changes to cases”. The committee, however, said it could not accept that expressing those views in the way she did, and in front of the registrar, was consistent with her obligations under rules 10 and 13 of the Rules of Conduct and Client Care.

Rules 10 and 13 require lawyers to deal with others, including others involved in court processes, with respect.

The committee’s view was that the comment, as admitted by B, breached rules 10 and 13.2.1 and that B had failed to promote and maintain proper standards of professionalism in her dealings with the registrar and failed to treat her with respect. The committee therefore determined there had been unsatisfactory conduct on B’s part.

As well as the reprimand and fine, the committee ordered B to apologise to the registrar in writing, and to pay $750 costs.

Last updated on the 10th October 2016