New Zealand Law Society - Lawyer suspended for 12 months for misleading employer and prison authorities

Lawyer suspended for 12 months for misleading employer and prison authorities

Debbie Laura Paulson Wilson has has been suspended for 12 months by the Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal.

The charges relate to a brief, but clandestine relationship with a prisoner for whom she had recently acted as a lawyer.

Ms Paulson Wilson worked as an employed barrister for Mr M and was tasked to meet with a Prisoner (Prisoner X) to discuss the possibility of an appeal. Mr M determined there were no grounds for an appeal, so told the practitioner to inform Prisoner X that they could not assist him.

Following the meeting, Prisoner X requested Ms Paulson Wilson’s phone number be approved as a legal contact. At the same time, she confirmed to prison staff that she was carrying out research into the prisoner’s appeal and agreed to her number being approved for further legal discussions.

The two then connected via phone six times, and via Instagram over the course of the following six days. In this contact, the pair discussed both the possibility of sexual contact and the possibility of her smuggling items into the prison.

Department of Corrections staff found out about the contact shortly afterwards and made a report to Mr M, which eventually led to Ms Paulson Wilson being dismissed from her employment.

The Tribunal suspended Ms Paulsen Wilson from practising for 12 months, prohibited her from practising on her own account until authorised by the Tribunal, and ordered her to pay costs of $7,000.

The Tribunal stated they had no hesitation in declaring this offending to be at the more serious end of the misconduct spectrum, and that the conduct was not only demonstrative of poor judgement and lack of experience. “…the two more important features of this offending are the breach of the relationship of trust (both with her employer and the Corrections Department) and the degree of deception involved.”

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