New Zealand Law Society - Lawyer ordered to apologise for misleading and discourteous emails

Lawyer ordered to apologise for misleading and discourteous emails

The New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal (the Tribunal) has ordered a practitioner to apologise for two emails which were discourteous and misleading in nature.  The practitioner (whom was given name suppression) accepted a charge of unsatisfactory conduct. The Tribunal made an order that the lawyer apologise to the complainant, but declined to make any further orders censuring him or requiring him to contribute to the complainant’s costs.

The practitioner was one of three landlords who owned a commercial building which was leased to the complainant, who operated it as a bar. A dispute arose between the landlords and the tenant about the area of land covered by the lease. The complainant’s liquor licence came up for renewal and it was opposed by the Police. The practitioner wrote two emails to the District Council on his firm’s letterhead and stated that he was “acting for the landlord”. The Tribunal accepted that this gave the impression that he was acting for the landlords instead of writing the emails, which was misleading. In the emails, the practitioner set out his position in regard to the disputed area and did not acknowledge it was contentious point or that the complainant had a different view. Furthermore, he did not copy these emails to the complainant or his representative. The practitioner accepted that his emails were misleading and discourteous as a result.

The Tribunal noted it was surprised that the Standards Committee had escalated the matter to the Tribunal and made an order that the practitioner apologise to the complainant. The Tribunal considered other orders and held that, while it did not approve of the practitioner’s conduct, it did not warrant harsh criticism or sharp rebuke and therefore declined to censure the practitioner. The Tribunal also did not consider it could find the conduct led to increased costs for the complainant so declined to award compensation. The Tribunal awarded limited costs in favour of the Committee.

The practitioner was given permanent name suppression.

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