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Lawyer censured and fined for "high-end" unsatisfactory conduct

18 October 2017

Censured and fined for “high-end” unsatisfactory conduct

Edward George Tanu (Ted) Faleauto Johnston has been censured and fined for “high-end unsatisfactory conduct” in two separate lawyers standards committee decisions.

In both cases, Mr Faleauto, who was practising as a barrister, represented clients facing criminal charges in the District Court. Due to his absence overseas, Mr Faleauto did not appear for the clients at scheduled hearings.  As well as the two censures, in each case he was fined $5,000.

In each decision, the committee said it gave “serious consideration” to referring the matter to the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal.

First standards committee decision

In the first case, a standards committee found two counts of unsatisfactory conduct by Mr Faleauto.

One was that he failed to complete a retainer for a client, Mr G, failed to keep Mr G informed of progress of the retainer, and fell “woefully short” of the obligation of courtesy he owed Mr G. Mr Faleauto did not appear to represent Mr G at his defended hearing in the District Court in October 2013.

The second finding was that he received money directly from Mr G before rendering an invoice and failed to pay that money into a trust account.

Second standards committee decision

In a separate case related to a different client, Mr Y, the committee made three findings of unsatisfactory conduct.

The first finding related to Mr Faleauto receiving cash from his client’s sister before rendering an invoice and failing to pay that money into a trust account .

The second finding related to failing to complete the retainer, failing to keep the client informed of progress on the retainer, and failing in his obligations of courtesy owed to the client and his sister.

The third unsatisfactory conduct finding related to Mr Faleauto not having an instructing solicitor.

Mr Faleauto said he left New Zealand for Samoa part way through 2013 but always intended to return to New Zealand for Mr G’s defended hearing in October. However, constant court delays and the fact he was working on a very involved case in Samoa at the time made it impossible. He said that after leaving for Samoa he had overlooked Mr Y’s case, for which he apologises.

“The committee considers Mr Faleauto’s conduct to be high-end unsatisfactory conduct,” each of the two decisions states.

Unacceptable conduct

“It is unacceptable for a lawyer to accept instructions to act for a client, then travel overseas and fail to return to appear at a court hearing without so much as contacting the client or arranging an agent to appear.

“A client is entitled to have confidence and trust in his or her lawyer,” the committee said.

In the first case, Mr Faleauto was ordered to cancel his $1,000 fee and refund $1,000, to apologise in writing and to pay $500 costs.

In the second case, Mr Faleauto was ordered to cancel his $500 fee and refund his client’s sister the $500, apologise in writing to his client and the client’s sister and to pay $500 costs.

The committee also ordered that a summary of its decision, including Mr Faleauto’s name, be published in both cases.

“In the committee’s view, the conduct was serious and the need to protect consumers of legal services outweighed the interests and privacy of Mr Faleauto and his relatives [and] clients.

“In particular, the committee believed that the community in which Mr Faleauto practised was entitled to know of its findings in relation to his conduct in deciding whether or not to instruct him to undertake work for them,” the committee said.

LCRO Review

Mr Faleauto applied to the Legal Complaints Review Officer (LCRO) for reviews of the two decisions that his name be published.

In LCRO 99/2015 and LCRO 100/2015, the LCRO confirmed the two decisions to publish Mr Faleauto’s name, directing in each case that “the materials the committee publishes should be linked to this decision”.

“Mr Faleauto has provided no good reason to reverse the committee’s direction,” the LCRO said in both reviews.

Last updated on the 18th October 2017