New Zealand Law Society - High Court dismisses lawyer’s appeal against suspension from practice

High Court dismisses lawyer’s appeal against suspension from practice

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The High Court has dismissed Rodney James Hooker’s appeal against a decision by the Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal to suspend him from practice for three months.

Mr Hooker’s suspension will begin on 19 December 2020. He will not be able to provide legal services for the three months directly after this time.

The Lawyer’s and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal (administered by the Ministry of Justice) earlier found Mr Hooker guilty of misconduct in May 2018. The finding related to his mistreatment of client funds. His appeals against that finding to the High Court and the Court of Appeal were dismissed.

Mr Hooker’s client and their employer had a long running dispute which was settled at mediation. Part of the settlement was the payment of a lump sum. However, the employer mistakenly made an additional payment to the client.

Ultimately, after discussions between Mr Hooker and his client, the extra payment was applied largely to the client’s fees.

A Lawyers Standards Committee referred Mr Hooker’s case to the Tribunal to determine whether the offending reached the threshold for misconduct. The Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal is the only disciplinary body under the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act able to impose a suspension on a practitioner.

In the High Court decision dated 18 October 2018, the Judge said Mr Hooker “was indifferent to and abused the privileges of his registration as a legal practitioner, which put him in the position to receive funds on the client’s account.”

The High Court also ordered Mr Hooker to pay the Lawyers Standards Committee’s full costs of $63,675.80.