New Zealand Law Society - Lawyers Complaints Service: Struck off lawyer was seriously dishonest

Lawyers Complaints Service: Struck off lawyer was seriously dishonest

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Former Auckland lawyer Ilaisaane Valu-Pome’e has been struck off by the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal.

In [2014] NZLCDT 87, Ms Valu-Pome’e was found guilty of eight charges – two charges of misconduct, two charges of negligence and four charges of unsatisfactory conduct.

“All charges arise out of her conduct in acting for the complainants on an adoption application and connected immigration applications,” the Tribunal said. “Although only one set of complainants [is] involved, the failures of the lawyer are numerous and serious and cover a period of six years.”

In 2007, Mr and Mrs L instructed Ms Valu-Pome’e to commence adoption proceedings so they could adopt Mrs L’s one-year-old niece, S, and to apply to Immigration New Zealand for a permit for her so that she could remain in New Zealand.

Ms Valu-Pome’e prepared the necessary court documents for adoption and also applied to Immigration New Zealand for a temporary visitor’s permit for S while the adoption proceedings were being pursued.

Despite the fact that S’s permit application had been approved and she held a valid permit until 29 May 2008, Ms Valu-Pome’e advised Mrs L that S’s permit had not been granted and that they needed to appeal to the Minister of Immigration. She wrote to the Minister seeking a special direction from the Minister to intervene in the case.

In May 2008 Mr and Mrs L again met with Ms Valu-Pome’e. The purpose of the meeting was to extend S’s permit. However, Ms Valu-Pome’e failed to file an application to extend S’s permit and she was effectively unlawfully in New Zealand from the end of May 2008.

Mrs L contacted Ms Valu-Pome’e multiple times between May 2008 and August 2009 but was advised that she was waiting a response from Immigration New Zealand. Ms Valu-Pome’e also falsely advised her that S’s immigration matter had been refused and that the next step was to appeal to the Minister of Immigration.

In the meantime, the adoption proceedings had been set down for hearings in the Family Court in May and August 2009. At the hearings Ms Valu-Pome’e advised the Court that a social-worker’s report had not been provided to her, and the proceedings were adjourned.

In October 2009 Ms Valu-Pome’e wrote to the Family Court advising that Mr and Mrs L would file updated affidavits shortly but Mrs L did not receive any contact from her at that time. Ms Valu-Pome’e appears not to have taken any further steps in relation to the adoption proceedings and on 21 July 2010 they were struck out for want of prosecution.

In 2011, without obtaining instructions, Ms Valu-Pome’e applied to Immigration New Zealand for a student visa for S. As part of that application, she stated that she was seeking the visa so that S could “remain on a valid permit awaiting a decision on her adoption application”, despite the proceedings having been struck out over one year earlier.

The file from Immigration New Zealand also included letters which were identical to letters previously submitted to Immigration New Zealand in 2007 as part of the original permit application but with the dates altered to read 2011.

In addition, Ms Valu-Pome’e included a letter from the Manukau Family Court which appeared to advise her that the case would be reviewed on 16 October 2011. The letter appeared to be an altered copy of a previous letter from the Family Court dating from 2009.

In 2011 Immigration New Zealand advised Ms Valu-Pome’e that S’s application was granted on the conditions that she provide a completed student visa application form and supporting documentation.

Ms Valu-Pome’e then sought an extension from Immigration New Zealand on the basis that there had been a death in Mr and Mrs L’s family and that one of the three young men who had drowned on Labour Day in the Waikato River was the brother of Mrs L. These statements were untrue.

The Tribunal noted that “very serious consequences” ensued for her clients as a result of Ms Valu-Pome’s inaction and her actions.

“We have no difficulty in finding that this behaviour would certainly tend to bring the profession into disrepute and indeed is so incompetent as to reflect on the practitioner’s fitness.”

It also described her deceptions and false representations to her clients as “a total abrogation of her role as a lawyer and of her duty of absolute trust and integrity that was owed to them.”

Providing false information to Immigration New Zealand, letters with dates altered “in a very obvious handwritten way” and the fact she had certified the documents as “true” on a date before the purported date of the document itself was “serious dishonesty”, the Tribunal said.

As well as the strike off, Ms Valu-Pome’e was ordered to pay the complainants $2,530 compensation and to pay the Law Society $1,990 Tribunal costs.

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