New Zealand Law Society - Lawyers Complaints Service: Fined for not releasing client file

Lawyers Complaints Service: Fined for not releasing client file

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A lawyer, D, has been fined $7,500 after she failed to comply with a lawyers standards committee direction to release a file to a client’s new lawyer.

The client lodged a complaint against D in April 2012 for failing to release her client file. On 25 September 2012, a standards committee ordered that D release the file to the complainant within 30 days of the date of the determination.

In December 2012, the complainant contacted the Lawyers Complaints Service (LCS) formally complaining that D had failed to release the file.

When the standards committee invited D to provide a written explanation, she did not respond. She also did not respond to a reminder letter the LCS sent.

The committee then set the matter down for a hearing on the papers, and issued D with the Notice of Hearing, which informed her she was entitled to make submissions on the issues raised. D did not acknowledge the complaint or any communications from the LCS.

“Although the file had been released to the client’s new counsel in March 2012, possibly only as a result of [the] second complaint to the LCS, it was well outside the stipulated time frame,” the committee said.

Noting that D had only released the file just before the committee’s hearing on the papers, the committee said: “The timing of this action and the attempt to ‘settle’ the matter at this late stage suggests [D] was simply trying to avoid possible disciplinary consequences.”

The committee also noted that D had not applied to the Legal Complaints Review Officer for review of its 25 September 2012 order “and she therefore prima facie accepted the committee’s determination”.

Overall, the committee said it was “dismayed at [D]’s conduct and lack of participation in the complaints process”.

It considered referring the matter to the Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal, but ultimately decided not to do so. It determined that D’s apparent failure to comply with its order was “high end unsatisfactory conduct”.

Noting D’s prior disciplinary history, the committee said that background exacerbated its concern at D’s conduct and would be reflected by a higher penalty.

As well as the fine, the committee ordered D to pay $1,000 costs.

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