New Zealand Law Society - Fined for three rule breaches

Fined for three rule breaches

Published on 30 August 2019

A lawyer has been fined $3,000 for discussing his client’s case with another client, for failing to treat his client with respect, and failing to respond to his client in a timely manner.

When making the three findings of unsatisfactory conduct by the lawyer, the lawyers standards committee said it considered that each warranted a $1,000 fine.

The lawyer, Durham, represented Mr Glamorgan in proceedings under the Care of Children Act 2004.

In 2014, an interim parenting order had been made in favour of Mr Glamorgan’s former partner, giving her day-to-day care of the children.

Mr Glamorgan had an agreement where he would have the children in his care on alternate weekends. However, he sought to secure more contact with the children.

Durham represented Mr Glamorgan at a hearing in 2016 where the judge made an interim parenting order placing the children in week-about care of Mr Glamorgan and his former partner.

Following the hearing, Durham raised concerns with Mr Glamorgan about the payment of ongoing fees. Mr Glamorgan’s view was that Durham had agreed to staggered payments. Durham disagreed.

In October 2016, Durham contacted Mr Glamorgan threatening District Court proceedings to recover the balance of the outstanding fees. Mr Glamorgan responded, setting out various concerns about Durham’s conduct and about the fees he charged. He requested further information about the basis for the fees but received no response.

In September 2017, Durham provided Mr Glamorgan with his timesheets. Durham subsequently instructed a debt recovery agency to pursue the outstanding costs. Mr Glamorgan then made a formal complaint.

Mr Glamorgan alleged that Durham failed to respond to his enquiries in a timely manner and in some cases failed to respond at all.

Mr Glamorgan said he had left a series of voice mail messages, followed by text messages, but received no response. Mr Glamorgan asked the advice of a neighbour – a family lawyer – who rang Durham and left a message.

Mr Glamorgan said that when he did speak to Durham, Durham made it clear that he had not appreciated the call from the neighbour. Mr Glamorgan finally did secure a meeting with Durham on the Saturday before the hearing set down for the following Tuesday.

In the meantime, Mr Glamorgan said, his affidavit witnesses were “going crazy” not knowing whether they would be required to appear at the hearing.

Failure to respond

The standards committee said that Durham’s failure to respond to Mr Glamorgan’s various enquiries in a timely manner breached his professional obligations under rules 3.2 and 7.2 of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act (Lawyers: Conduct and Client Care) Rules 2008 (RCCC).

That constituted unsatisfactory conduct.

Mr Glamorgan said that Durham had made an abusive phone call about fees. Durham had sworn profusely and had said to him: “every time you buy a pair of shoes, every time you pay for a kebab, you think of me staring back at you and the money you haven’t paid”.

Durham denied making the abusive phone call.

The standards committee, however, said it was satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that Durham had made the call in question.

“It reached this conclusion because [Durham] was clearly applying increasing pressure to [Mr Glamorgan] … to make payment of outstanding fees. [Mr Glamorgan] was not acceding to [Durham]’s requests and indeed threatened to terminate the retainer. This appears to have angered [Durham] prompting the abusive phone call,” the committee said.

During the latter part of his engagement with Durham, Mr Glamorgan said, Durham started to tell him about another case and advised him that he and his client had been celebrating a win over a beer when his client said his daughter was exhausted after a sleepover with another child whose mother had been vacuuming all evening.

Mr Glamorgan said that Durham advised that he had put “two and two together” and asked the client whether his daughter’s friend’s name was Berwickshire (being the name of Mr Glamorgan’s daughter), and Durham made derogatory comments about Berwickshire’s mother.

Durham denied breaching confidentiality. He said that when he enquired it was confirmed that the friend’s name was Berwickshire. Durham said that was the end of the matter and no further details were exchanged.

The standards committee said it shared Mr Glamorgan’s doubt that Durham had ended the conversation with the other client as quickly as he claimed and was satisfied – on the balance of probabilities – that Durham had indeed discussed Mr Glamorgan’s case with another client.

“There is no reason to doubt Mr [Glamorgan]’s claim that [Durham] openly stated that he had described Mr Glamorgan’s former partner as ‘a crazy bitch’ when talking to his other client,” the committee said.

By disclosing confidential information, Durham had breached rule 8 and following of the RCCC and that was unsatisfactory conduct.

As well as the $3,000 fine, the committee ordered Durham to pay $1,000 costs.

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