New Zealand Law Society - Lawyer suspended for six months for altering emails, misleading Standards Committee, and other conduct

Lawyer suspended for six months for altering emails, misleading Standards Committee, and other conduct

Altering emails dishonestly, misleading a Standards Committee, and other conduct has led to a six-month suspension for lawyer, Mr Y. The Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal (the Tribunal) considered Mr Y’s actions involved serious misconduct and that suspension was the necessary consequence. The Tribunal took into account a number of mitigating factors before determining that a six-month period of suspension was appropriate.

There were three charges of misconduct which were admitted by Mr Y. The first involved altering the details of emails he had sent himself to make it appear as if it had been sent to a third party on an earlier date. Mr Y did this on six occasions in a five month period in emails sent to his employer, clients and the Labour Inspector. The details of the second charge were supressed and the third charge involved misleading the Standards Committee. The Tribunal noted that this conduct struck at the heart of professional obligations as it involved dishonesty, a failure to manage personal matters so they did not impinge on professional performance and the provision of misleading information by Mr Y to his professional body.

The Tribunal considered there were a number of mitigating features, including that Mr Y took responsibility for his conduct and admitted the charges at an early date. Mr Y’s willingness to address his ongoing health issues was also seen as “a positive indicator of his determination to address the problems”. Mr Y’s decision to take nine months out of practise was also seen as a positive step to his credit, along with his lack of previous adverse findings. Mr Y had also agreed to provide undertakings to the Tribunal which the Tribunal considered “protective”. Taking all of this into account, the Tribunal suspended Mr Y for a period of six months. Mr Y was also ordered to pay costs.

Mr Y was granted suppression of his name and other identifying details after evidence was provided by his treating psychologist which demonstrated that “this was one of those rare cases where the personal interests of the practitioner outweigh the public interest in knowing the identity of the lawyer”.