New Zealand Law Society - Suspension, supervision and costs to pay for letters containing false allegations designed to damage employment relationships

Suspension, supervision and costs to pay for letters containing false allegations designed to damage employment relationships

After a defended hearing, the Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal has made a finding of misconduct against Lynette O’Boyle.

In the course of family law proceedings Ms O’Boyle “became over-involved in a case”. The outcome of that case was that Ms O’Boyle’s client lost day-to-day care of children to an ex-partner.

Ms O’Boyle sent letters to the employer of the ex-partner, the employer of the ex-partner’s partner and to another employer. She also copied those letters to the Privacy Commissioner. The letters contained false allegations and unsubstantiated speculation dressed up as a fact.

The Tribunal held that the letters were “designed to damage the employment relationships of the two victims”. These victims were senior employees for Government Departments and were embarrassed by the communications.

Ms O’Boyle compounded her wrong-doing by repeatedly telling the Standards Committee that some of her allegations were proved by evidence in the Family Court case, which was proven wrong by the official record. The Tribunal imposed a suspension but also ordered Ms O’Boyle to pay each of the two victims $3000 each, to engage in a course of professional supervision for a minimum of one year and a maximum of two years, as well as to pay costs.

In deciding to go beyond a penalty of suspension the Tribunal stated “Were we simply to suspend Ms O’Boyle from practice, we would be leaving the job largely undone. In our view, Ms O’Boyle needs to be challenged about her practice, made to account for her choices, and develop ways of interacting that are professionally appropriate, especially so because she practices in the emotionally charged area of family law. We are concerned about her mode of practice going forward unless she can resolve some of these issues. To do so, in our view, requires professional supervision, not simply oversight by a fellow practitioner”.

In terms of remorse, the Tribunal stated “In the penalty hearing, each party advanced different views about Ms O’Boyle’s remorse. Although she says she regrets her actions, we do not perceive Ms O’Boyle has any real understanding of the hurt she caused to the victims. In the course of the liability hearing, she tended to blame others, and failed to take responsibility fulsomely herself. Even the offending letters, written on her letterhead and signed by her, she attempted to fix to her client, suggesting that she only wrote them to avoid intolerable pressure placed on her by the client.”

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