New Zealand Law Society - High Court dismisses appeal by lawyer struck off in 2018

High Court dismisses appeal by lawyer struck off in 2018

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The High Court has dismissed an appeal by former Auckland lawyer Brian Robert Ellis.

The New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal had found Mr Ellis guilty of misconduct and ordered him struck off the roll of barristers and solicitors in November 2018.

That came after he had been censured and suspended from practice for six months in June 2018 for separate proceedings relating to acting for a client when he had a conflict of interest.

In the  most recent proceedings he was found to have persistently failed to comply with his trust account reporting obligations, to have adversely dealt with his client’s trust funds without the client’s knowledge and to have deducted an unjustified fee from funds held in trust for his client.

In deciding to strike Mr Ellis off the roll, the Tribunal had found unanimously that he was not a fit and proper person to remain a lawyer.

In the High Court appeal, Mr Ellis’s legal counsel contended that despite his poor disciplinary history, Mr Ellis should be given the opportunity to try to redeem himself professionally and that a further lengthy period of suspension would adequately ‘drive home’ the message that he must take much more care in respect of his professional obligations.

However, given Mr Ellis’s extensive disciplinary history, the High Court said it was satisfied that it should not depart from the specialist Tribunal’s finding, and upheld the Tribunal’s 2018 decision to strike Mr Ellis off the roll.

“Mr Ellis has not satisfied me that I should depart from the specialist Tribunal’s finding.  He has displayed a consistent pattern of advancing his own pecuniary interests over those of his clients.  The Tribunal’s conclusion that it 'cannot have confidence that similar conduct will be avoided in future' is not one with which I take issue and is ultimately decisive, having regard to the public interest,” Justice Muir said.