New Zealand Law Society - Lawyers Complaints Service: Strike off follows theft conviction

Lawyers Complaints Service: Strike off follows theft conviction

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Minkai Huang has been struck off by the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal following his conviction for theft from the barristers’ chambers he was contracted to.

In [2014] NZLCDT 74, Mr Huang admitted he had been convicted of an offence punishable by imprisonment and which reflected on his fitness to practice or tended to bring the profession into disrepute.

Mr Huang was employed at the relevant time by a barristers’ chambers. He commenced his employment some time in 2011. He did not have a fixed salary, but was to receive 30% of the fee billed for any work that he carried out.

Between September and October 2011, a client of the chambers resident in China requested assistance in an immigration matter. The client became dissatisfied with the service provided and contacted Mr Huang directly. He agreed to represent the client, but did so without authorisation from the chambers he was contracted to.

He received a fee of $9,500 directly into a bank account he controlled and accordingly committed theft from his employer. The client later withdrew her instructions having been advised that she was not eligible for a temporary visa. She requested a refund of the fee.

Mr Huang declined to make the refund even although he had not commenced any work for the client.

Having pleaded guilty to the offence, Mr Huang was convicted and sentenced on 10 December 2013 to 100 hours community work. He completed that work within a month of sentencing. He has, as well, repaid the fee in full.

The lawyers standards committee that brought the matter to the Tribunal submitted that because Mr Huang had been convicted of dishonesty, striking off was the appropriate penalty.

“The practitioner’s actions created a risk for the client in that her payment was not held in the [barristers’ chambers] Trust Account,” the Tribunal’s decision said.

“His offending was further aggravated by the fact that he retained the fee for around eight months despite having conducted no work and having been requested to make the refund.”

Among the mitigating factors submitted by counsel for Mr Huang were the fact that he had made full reparation, that the offending was a single incident in an otherwise unblemished record, that Mr Huang had not practised since the complaint was made and that there was no loss to the client.

Mr Huang had also co-operated fully with the investigation and had admitted his guilt at the earliest opportunity.

The Tribunal said it found that Mr Huang had not persuaded it that there are any strong mitigating factors that would justify an order short of striking off.

As well as the striking off, the Tribunal ordered Mr Huang to pay the Law Society $7,461.17 Law Society costs and $1,769 Tribunal costs.

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