Former Hokitika lawyer Stephen Joseph Woulfe has been suspended for two months by the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal.
Mr Woulfe admitted a charge of negligence or incompetence in his professional capacity to such a degree as to reflect on fitness to practice or as to bring his profession into disrepute.
A signature on an authority and instruction form prepared and executed by Mr Woulfe was a forgery. Despite that Mr Woulfe provided the signatory identification by executing a certificate stating that he had witnessed the signatory sign the form, had sighted the original copy of the identification, attached a copy of the ID used and the photos, names and signatures all match the identification provided.
These documents were used in a financing transaction under which a fraudster and shareholder of a company defrauded the company of funds for the benefit of a trust related to himself. The overall effect of the fraud was to deprive the other shareholders of the value of the shares in the company and cause them considerable loss.
Mr Woulfe was censured and suspended from obtaining a practising certificate for a period of two months from 16 March 2017. He was ordered to pay costs to the New Zealand Law Society in the sum of $10,000 and to reimburse the $5,066 costs of the hearing.
The Tribunal accepted that Mr Woulfe was no part of the scheme to defraud which had been devised by the fraudster. However, it considered his negligence was of serious concern. “It is crucial to the profession’s reputation and functioning that lending institutions have full confidence, not only in a lawyer’s honesty, but of his or her standards of diligence and care”, the Tribunal said.
The Tribunal noted that Mr Woulfe had removed himself from practice and handed in his practising certificate. He is now living overseas.