The New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal (Tribunal) has found that Palmerston North lawyer, Jeremy McGuire engaged in misconduct by failing to comply with two orders of Standards Committee on the basis he did not agree with them. The Tribunal considered this breached the fundamental obligation of a lawyer to uphold the law and was serious misconduct. The Tribunal ordered that Mr McGuire be suspended for four months, censured and ordered to pay costs.
Mr McGuire faced two charges of misconduct for non-compliance with Standards Committee orders.
The background to the first order was as follows. In August 2018, a Standards Committee made a finding of unsatisfactory conduct and Mr McGuire was ordered to pay his former client $1,919.50 in compensation. This decision was upheld on review to Legal Complaints Review Officer. However Mr McGuire refused to pay the first compensation order, forcing his client to take enforcement action, which Mr McGuire persistently opposed. Payment was eventually made, but a further complaint was made in relation to his non-compliance. The Standards Committee made a further finding of unsatisfactory conduct and Mr McGuire was ordered to pay compensation of $1,500. Mr McGuire refused to pay this compensation on the basis that he disagreed with the order.
The second order had a similar background. In June 2021, a separate Standards Committee found Mr McGuire guilty of unsatisfactory conduct and ordered him to reduce his fee and refund his former client $150. Mr McGuire refused to do so on the basis he considered the decision to be wrong and, therefore, saw no reason as to why he should have to pay the monies ordered by the Standards Committee.
In its liability decision, the Tribunal considered his refusal to comply with a lawful order made by his professional body showed a wilful breach of his obligations under s4 of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006 to uphold the law. The Tribunal was also critical of Mr McGuire requiring the former clients to appear for cross-examination in an attempt to further impugn their credibility and integrity in circumstances where they could add little to proceedings and making contact with a family member of one of the former clients in an effort to undermine their credibility. The Tribunal found that, given those features, Mr McGuire’s conduct was disgraceful and dishonourable.
In term of penalty, the Tribunal accepted that refusal to comply with an order of a professional body is serious misconduct. The Tribunal noted that while Mr McGuire may have had a “blind spot” when it came to the Law Society due to an earlier disagreement, this did not excuse his disgraceful conduct towards his clients or detract from the seriousness of the misconduct.
The Tribunal took account of Mr McGuire’s poor disciplinary record, the manner in which he treated his clients up to and including the liability hearing, and his lack of insight and remorse – the latter being illustrated by his non-attendance at the penalty hearing. The Tribunal also commented that his continued failure to pay the fines and costs owing to the Law Society encapsulated his continued “thumbing his nose” at disciplinary institutions. The Tribunal considered that until Mr McGuire pays the fines and costs, it is difficult to accept that he understands and intends to abide by the fundamental obligations of lawyers.
The Tribunal gave little credit to Mr McGuire, in terms of mitigation, given his conduct and continued stance. Mr McGuire had paid the monies owing to the former clients, but only in the days leading up to the penalty hearing. The Tribunal considered that he still needed to reflect on his conduct and until he can do so, it would be hard to see how he can bring a ‘balanced and respectful approach to his profession’.
The Tribunal determined that only a firm response would signal to members of the profession that failure to abide by orders of disciplinary institutions will not be tolerated. The Tribunal considered that it would be improper to provide Mr McGuire with further opportunity [to comply] and that any consequence short of suspension would not reflect the seriousness of this matter. The Tribunal, therefore, suspended Mr McGuire for a period of four months. He was also censured and ordered to pay compensation to the clients of $3000 each for non-pecuniary loss and injury to feelings. Mr McGuire was also ordered to pay costs.
Mr McGuire has appealed the Tribunal’s liability and penalty decisions. His suspension is stayed pending the outcome of the appeal.