Auckland lawyer Bharat Parshotam has been suspended from practising for nine months from 1 June 2016 after admitting two charges before the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal.
Mr Parshotam admitted charges of negligence or incompetence of such a degree as to reflect on his fitness to practise or as to bring his profession into disrepute.
The charges arose from complaints by two separate clients. In both instances Mr Parshotam falsely witnessed documents he had not seen signed by the clients. One of the signatures was later found to have been forged. He then falsely certified to Land Information New Zealand that he had witnessed the signing of loan documents and authority and instruction forms respectively.
Also, in relation to one of the complainants, Mr Parshotam acted for multiple parties in transactions in which there was a risk that he may be unable to discharge his obligations to one or more clients.
The Tribunal said the conduct involved "high end negligence" and Mr Parshotam's errors of judgement were serious and multiple. It accepted that Mr Parshotham had not engaged in wilful or calculated conduct for personal gain and also that he had a high standing in the community.
However, the Tribunal noted he had four previous findings of unsatisfactory conduct against him, he had acted unprofessionally by lying to a colleague, had delayed in sending the client files to their new solicitors, and had misled the New Zealand Law Society and its standards committee during investigation of the complaints.
The Tribunal suspended Mr Parshotam for nine months commencing on 1 June 2016. He was also ordered to pay costs to the New Zealand Law Society of $10,531 and to reimburse hearing costs of $4,197.
New Zealand Law Society President Kathryn Beck says lawyers may not under any circumstances take shortcuts when witnessing the signing of documents or in certifying that they have witnessed signing.
"No matter how busy they are, no matter how well they may know the person who presents the document, lawyers must always observe the signing if they are going to attest the genuineness of the signatures. The fact that one of the signatures was, in fact, forged, is a graphic illustration of why a lawyer must be present at all signings," she says.