Manawatu lawyer Kirsten Gaye Harper has been censured and ordered to pay $21,833 in costs by the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal.
Mrs Harper accepted a charge of misconduct for more than 70 breaches of the rules surrounding the witnessing of documents, and subsequent certification.
The Tribunal felt, however, that despite Ms Harper’s behaviour being “moderately serious misconduct” a suspension was not appropriate due to a number of mitigating factors.
It noted that there was no attempt to conceal what was taking place. Further, it accepted there was no question that there had been any loss or disadvantage to either clients or third parties, or any personal gain or advantage to Ms Harper.
The Tribunal considered that there was no chance of reoffending, that Ms Harper had already been rehabilitated and there were several factors which argued against suspension. Further, it considered the impact of Covid-19 in these circumstances.
It stated “ … we consider that in the end there are significant adverse consequences likely to be suffered by innocent third parties as set out should Ms Harper be suspended. We do not consider there are countervailing adverse circumstances likely should she not be suspended. And we do not consider that the credibility of the disciplinary process or the expected professional standards of practitioners are undermined by the absence of a suspension order in the penalties to be imposed, because of the considerable number of mitigating features in this case and the challenging times for all New Zealanders during the pandemic which impact on access to many resources including legal services.”
As well as the censure, the Tribunal ordered Mrs Harper to pay a total of $21,833 in costs.