New Zealand Law Society - Auckland lawyer struck off for failing to respond to clients, other practitioners and information requests from a Standards Committee

Auckland lawyer struck off for failing to respond to clients, other practitioners and information requests from a Standards Committee

Failing to act on client instructions and respond to requests from clients, fellow practitioners and a Standards Committee has led to three findings of misconduct against Neshia Holdaway (Ms Holdaway). The Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal (the Tribunal) found that Ms Holdaway was not a fit and proper person to practise as a lawyer as she had not provided any credible explanation for her conduct.

Ms Holdaway’s conduct followed a general pattern of poor communication and inaction on client files which led to a new lawyer being instructed and an uplift request being sent. Ms Holdaway ignored these requests and four clients complained to the Lawyers Complaints Service about her conduct. In considering those complaints, a Standards Committee made several information requests to Ms Holdaway under s 147 of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006 (the Act) for documents such as client files or trust account statements. Ms Holdaway failed to provide all of the requested information to the Committee.   

In its liability decision, the Tribunal noted that “a striking theme” of the charges was Ms Holdaway’s lack of engagement with her governing body and noted it was unclear whether this arose from arrogance or some other reason. Ms Holdaway claimed that she suffered physical ailments which prevented her from complying with the Committee’s request and the Tribunal questioned how she could practise under “such persistent disability”. The Tribunal noted that Ms Holdaway had not provided any cogent evidence in respect of her health issues. She explained that her illness was a sensitive matter and declined to provide any further details even after the Tribunal clarified that any medical information would be the subject of non-publication orders.

Ms Holdaway only filed a bare denial of the charges and did not provide any evidence in response to the charges (and declined to make herself available for questioning at the hearing). However, her explanation for her lack of compliance with the s 147 requests were that she did not comply as they were not reasonable. She also explained that she did not act on the directions of clients if she considered them unreasonable. The Tribunal noted that it was settled law that practitioners have a basic professional obligation to cooperate with the Law Society as the profession’s governing body and to provide it with accurate information. It noted that Ms Holdaway’s responses were “inexcusably tardy” and the magnitude of her failures were “flagrant and gross”.

The Tribunal found all the charged proven to the standard of misconduct and that Ms Holdaway’s failure to engage properly with her governing body would be regarded by lawyers of good standing as disgraceful. The Tribunal noted that her lack of compliance with the s 147 requests had occurred during periods where COVID-19 restrictions were in place, but that Ms Holdaway had been given ample time to comply with the requirements. The Tribunal noted that it was deeply troubled by Ms Holdaway’s presentation at the liability hearing and commented it was uncertain how well she understood what was happening at the hearing. The Tribunal encouraged her to obtain counsel for the penalty hearing so that it could better understand her circumstances.

Ms Holdaway instructed counsel for the original penalty hearing date in December 2022. An adjournment was sought for further information to be provided, but the Tribunal ordered that Ms Holdaway be suspended on an interim basis for the protection of the public. The existence of the interim suspension order was suppressed pending the completion of the penalty hearing.

At the adjourned penalty hearing in March 2023, Ms Holdaway was unrepresented (having failed to maintain contact with her counsel so they were given leave to withdraw). The Tribunal noted that the underlying cause of Ms Holdaway’s conduct remained “a puzzle”. Ms Holdaway was still unwilling to provide the Tribunal with relevant material about her circumstances and medical matters. The Tribunal noted that she focused on the recent Independent Review report and appeared to view it as a basis on which she could neglect to comply with the Standards Committee’s orders. The Tribunal rejected that suggestion noting that lawyers had "a duty to comply with their present regulatory regime.”

The Tribunal noted that Ms Holdaway had 18 previous findings of unsatisfactory conduct between 2012 and 2020, which marked her out as “a problematic practitioner”. The Tribunal remained concerned about Ms Holdaway’s cognition and noted that her lack of appreciation about the gravity of her conduct may be the result of psychological condition. In the absence of understanding what drove her problematic conduct, the Tribunal considered “there was no effective option to protect the public interests and to uphold the reputation of the profession other than strike off”. Accordingly, an order that Ms Holdaway’s name be struck off the roll was made.

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