Mr Patrick James Kennelly, a sole practising lawyer in Orewa, has been found guilty of unsatisfactory conduct by the Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal because he failed to comply with a Standards Committee order that he pay compensation to a former client.
The Standards Committee ordered that compensation be paid by Mr Kennelly because of his poor attention to his former client’s case. Not only did he fail to respond to her queries, he failed to file court documents in accordance with a timetable, resulting in criticism by a judge and incurring a costs order against his former client.
Mr Kennelly applied for a review, but the Lawyers and Conveyancers Review Officer confirmed the orders. Despite the Standards Committee and the client repeatedly writing to Mr Kennelly he still failed to pay the compensation. When the Standards Committee laid the charge with the Tribunal, Mr Kennelly immediately paid the client.
The Standards Committee alleged that Mr Kennelly’s continued lack of response and previous matters meant that the failure should be characterised as misconduct, and that he should be suspended for four months. Mr Kennelly denied misconduct, but admitted his conduct amounted to unsatisfactory conduct.
The Tribunal made a finding of unsatisfactory conduct, stating that it viewed this matter as a discrete failure to obey the order to pay compensation. Further, it declined to order a period of suspension, instead choosing to censure Mr Kennelly and to order him to pay additional compensation of $600 to the former client, along with a $6,000 fine and almost $10,000 of costs.
However, the Tribunal also indicated that should there be future instances where Mr Kennelly disregarded his professional obligations, that it may consider the conduct to be at a more serious level. In that regard the Tribunal stated that “We do not regard this matter, in its broader context, as one that should be categorised among the more serious defaults. That statement would not wield the same force in future if he proved to be on a course where he disregarded his professional obligations, whether of a similar kind or not.”
“Our categorisation of this charge as unsatisfactory conduct, and our determination not to suspend, does not mean we regard this default as less than serious… In disciplinary matters, there is sometimes the possibility of a charge, within itself a small matter, accumulating moment because of prior history.”
The Tribunal concluded its warning by saying “We are concerned to warn him, however that further charges, even in different areas of concern, will inevitably cause us to consider the more serious penalties of suspension or strike-off”.