Wellington solicitor Keith Ian Jefferies has been suspended by the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal for six months from 10 October 2016 after being convicted on drug charges.
Mr Jefferies admitted a disciplinary charge of having been convicted of offences punishable by imprisonment which tend to bring his profession into disrepute. The convictions were for possession of a Class A controlled drug, methamphetamine, possession of a Class C controlled drug, bk- MDMA, and possession of utensils contrary to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975. The District Court had declined a discharge without conviction and imposed total fines of $1,300. On appeal the High Court upheld the sentence.
The Tribunal also censured Mr Jefferies, ordered him to pay the New Zealand Law Society costs of $7,861 and reimburse hearing costs of $2,909. Mr Jefferies is also required to submit himself to random drug tests as directed by the Law Society.
Mr Jefferies claimed he had no addiction and provided evidence in support. The Tribunal noted that he had initially lied to the Police about who the drugs belonged to and that this was an aggravating feature. It also noted his guilty plea, as well as his acknowledgement of the charge as factors which count in his favour.
The Tribunal accepted Mr Jefferies had practised for approximately 30 years in an area of law which can be stressful. However it said it must have regard to how the public might judge the seriousness of a criminal lawyer who represents clients facing drug charges succumbing to the use of a Class A drug in this way and would expect the Tribunal to send a strong message to the profession generally.
It considered that the offending was of a serious nature, although not at the very high end, and there was a need for general deterrence in the marking of the profession's disapproval for offending of this sort
Mark Treleaven, the New Zealand Law Society's National Prosecutions Manager, says the Tribunal was aware a suspension would place a financial burden on Mr Jefferies, but that anything less would not have sent the right message.
"Members of the public who entrust their personal affairs to legal practitioners are entitled to know that a professional disciplinary body will not treat lightly serious breaches of expected standards," Mr Treleaven says.