New Zealand Law Society - Lawyers Complaints Service: Appeal Court strikes off former lawyer

Lawyers Complaints Service: Appeal Court strikes off former lawyer

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Shane Peter Burton has been struck off by the Court of Appeal in [2014] NZCA 621 after being convicted on four charges of obtaining by deception.

Laying charges before the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal was not available to the Law Society, because Mr Burton did not hold a current practising certificate at the time of his offending. That meant there was no jurisdiction for a standards committee to inquire into the issue.

The Law Society therefore had to apply to the High Court for a strike off, which then had to refer the decision to the Court of Appeal.

Mr Burton was admitted on 11 October 2002. He last held a practising certificate in 2005. Between August 2011 and February 2012 Mr Burton worked as a recruitment consultant, specialising in the placement of legal candidates in local law firms.

In that capacity, he created false invoices for payments to be made into his own personal bank account rather than the company he worked for. In doing so, he fraudulently obtained a benefit of $105,776.

He was arrested at Auckland International Airport as he was attempting to leave the country.

After he pleaded guilty of four charges of obtaining by deception, Mr Burton was sentenced in the District Court on 19 November 2012 to six months’ home detention and ordered to pay reparation totalling $105,812.

In sentencing Mr Burton, the District Court Judge described the offending as “major, calculated and reasonably cunning”. He also described it as “… somewhat sophisticated, inevitably relying on the trust of all concerned …”

“As an employee he owed a duty to his employer to act in their best interests. Not only did he breach that duty of good faith but, through his actions, he caused considerable embarrassment to his employers and, no doubt, damage to their reputation within the legal community,” Justice Simon Moore said in his High Court decision, [2014] NZHC 2737.

“Given the gravity of the offending and, in particular, the gross breach of trust involved, I am of the view that this is a proper case in which to make an order striking Mr Burton’s name off the roll on the grounds he is not a fit and proper person to be a practitioner.”

Justice Moore said that in his opinion the Law Society’s application ought to be granted. “Accordingly, the application that Mr Burton’s name be struck off the roll of barristers and solicitors is reserved for the consideration of the Court of Appeal.”

Justice Moore also awarded costs to the Law Society.

In the Court of Appeal, Justices Tony Randerson, Rhys Harrison and Lynton Stevens said they agreed with Justice Moore, for the reasons he gave, that a strike off order was appropriate, and made the order.

The judgment also noted that Mr Burton had informed the Court Registrar that he was content for the application to be heard on the papers and that he would not be contesting it.

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