The New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal has found that former Auckland lawyer Marie Devoy engaged in misconduct by disobeying the orders of the Standards Committee to deliver a file to a former client. Ms Devoy had four previous findings of unsatisfactory conduct, including for failing to act in a timely manner and failing to respond to clients. The Tribunal suspended Ms Devoy for six months, ordered her not to practise on her own account and ordered that she deliver the file to the client forthwith.
By the date of the hearing, Ms Devoy had ceased practice as a lawyer. However, she was the former sole principal of City Law. In 2017, a former client requested a copy of their conveyancing file. Ms Devoy failed to send the file. In July 2022, the Standards Committee ordered Ms Devoy to hand over the file, confirm she had done so and explain the delay. It also made financial orders. Ms Devoy failed to comply with all the orders made, including failing to hand over the file. By the date of the Tribunal hearing, she had still not provided the file. The Tribunal accepted that lawyers of good standing would regard her failure to provide the file over a six-year period and to disobey the Standards Committee as disgraceful and dishonourable conduct and therefore found the charge of misconduct was made out.
In assessing penalty, the Tribunal noted that Ms Devoy had four previous findings of unsatisfactory conduct. These included three recent decisions relating to failing to act in a timely manner and failing to respond to requests from a client. The Tribunal accepted that Ms Devoy appears to have developed an inability to or indifference about responding to requests from clients and the Standards Committee in a timely manner, if at all. It noted she did not seem defiant but was merely non-responsive where she had a professional duty to respond. It found her conduct unusual and troubling and that she had indicated to the Committee that her own ability to provide reliable professional services has suffered due to “unspecified health and social issues”.
The Tribunal noted the default was long-standing and there is no sign that she will ever comply. The Tribunal commented its duty was to reinforce the orders of the Standards Committee and ensure that if Ms Devoy ever sought to practise again that her capacity to do so and her compliance with the orders should be checked by the Practice Advisory Committee. In addition to ordering her to deliver the file, the Tribunal ordered that Ms Devoy be suspended for six months and that she not be able to practise on her own account until authorised by the Disciplinary Tribunal. The Tribunal also made costs orders.