Tendering a false certification to Land Information New Zealand and then failing to candidly address the issue has led to the Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal suspending Auckland lawyer Craig Stuhlmann from practice for five months.
A single charge of misconduct covered Mr Stuhlmann's registration of an easement in the course of a property transaction. Mr Stuhlmann falsely certified to LINZ that he had authority from all owners of the affected land. That was followed by two years of "prevarication" as LINZ tried to enquire into the certification. During that time Mr Stuhlmann's correspondence to LINZ was deliberately misleading before he eventually admitted his conduct. He did not disclose his default to his firm at the time, the firm that his practice later merged with, his client, or the bank mortgagor. Mr Stuhlmann admitted the conduct amounted to misconduct following a part-heard liability hearing before the Tribunal. In its penalty decision the Tribunal confirmed its view that the conduct would reasonably be regarded by lawyers of good standing as disgraceful or dishonourable.
While accepting that Mr Stuhlmann had never acted in this way before or since, the Tribunal described the persistent absence of candour that followed as a "course that perpetuated the wrongdoing". The Tribunal also accepted the Mr Stuhlmann was thoroughly ashamed and regretful, and was unlikely to err in a similar way again. The Tribunal noted the existence of some personal circumstances which may have contributed to Mr Stuhlmann's initial obfuscations, and that protective steps could be put in place now that his current partners were aware of the conduct.
The Tribunal censured Mr Stuhlmann and suspended him from practice for five months. He was also ordered to meet the costs of the Tribunal and the New Zealand Law Society. The Tribunal viewed suspension as providing a penalty that would alert Mr Stuhlmann to the need to reflect on his conduct. The penalty was also necessary in the broader public interest to uphold public confidence in lawyers. That reflected the Tribunal's view that the conduct was "corrosive to the general reputation of lawyers" and required "condemnation and sufficient penalty to uphold public confidence and to deter other practitioners".
Mr Stuhlmann's suspension has commenced on 18 June 2022.