Auckland legal executive Yvonne Barton has been barred from working in the legal profession for 12 months by the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal for forging several signatures, including that of her firm’s principal.
Ms Barton admitted one charge of misconduct in her capacity as a legal executive. The facts as accepted were that, over 10 months, without her employer’s knowledge or permission, she cut and pasted client signatures onto eight documents and the signature of one of the principal’s onto four documents.
The Tribunal discussed whether a legal executive’s culpability is to be assessed against a lower standard than that of a lawyer and found that it is not. It stated “the standard of professionality is not a sliding scale”.
The Tribunal’s decision noted that Ms Barton had extensive relevant experience by the time she carried out the offending behaviour. She qualified as a legal executive in 1997 and, even after these events, continued with professional training while working for another firm.
The Tribunal imposed a penalty that no practitioner or incorporated firm employ Ms Barton for 12 months.
It also censured her and ordered her to honour her undertaking that she will inform any prospective employer who provides legal services of this decision.