Porirua lawyer Papali’i Toti Lagolago has had an adverse disciplinary finding made against her quashed by the High Court.
The New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal had previously found a charge proven against her. This was a charge of negligence or incompetence in her professional capacity of such a degree as to bring her profession into disrepute. The Tribunal had considered that if it was wrong in making that finding, in any event an alternative charge of unsatisfactory conduct had been proven.
The charges arose when Ms Lagolago was acting for Mr and Mrs F in civil proceedings in the District Court over a debt the Fs owed to a finance company.
In the High Court Justice Clifford found that Ms Lagolago was well aware of the difficulties of the substance of the claim her clients wished to bring. He said that given her clients’ determination to have their day in Court, Ms Lagolago went to considerable efforts to point that out to them. She would appear, however, to have also been sensitive to her clients’ right to bring the claim in Court.
The High Court held that any failure was one of degree rather than kind and it was not satisfied that any negligence if objectively assessed would bring the legal profession into disrepute in the eyes of a reasonable member of the public. Ms Lagolago had acted in good faith and with good intentions. Neither was the High Court satisfied that the alternative charge of unsatisfactory conduct had been made out.
The appeal by Ms Lagolago was allowed and the censure and costs orders made against her were set aside. The Tribunal had ordered Ms Lagolago to reduce her fee to her clients by $14,000 and the High Court did not think in the circumstances that it would be appropriate for Ms Lagolago to now claim an entitlement to pursue her full bill of costs.