Davina Valerie Murray has been struck off by the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal following her conviction for smuggling an iPhone, a packet of cigarettes and a cigarette lighter to a prisoner.
The Tribunal was “strongly of the view that Ms Murray is not a fit and proper person to continue in legal practice,” the Tribunal said in its penalty decision,  NZLCDT 6.
“The entire picture presented by her offending, her subsequent conduct and her previous disciplinary history is of a practitioner with little or no understanding of her ethical obligations to her clients, her profession or the institutions of justice.”
On 7 October 2011 Ms Murray concealed and smuggled into Mt Eden Prison an iPhone, a packet of cigarettes and a lighter. She gave these items to Liam Reid, a prisoner serving a lengthy term of imprisonment for murder and rape, the Tribunal said in its substantive decision,  NZLCDT 88. The items were found on Mr Reid and this discovery ultimately led to Ms Murray being charged with an offence under the Corrections Act.
Ms Murray denied the charge and, in the course of a seven-day hearing, during which she represented herself, conducted her defence on the basis that two Corrections Officers had planted the items on Mr Reid.
That defence was decisively rejected by the District Court Judge who found the evidence overwhelming against Ms Murray. She then sought a discharge without conviction, which was declined, and she was sentenced to 50 hours community work.
Ms Murray appealed the conviction and sentence. In February 2014 Justice Venning dismissed both appeals. Ms Murray completed her community work sentence.
Ms Murray was charged with the disciplinary offence of having been convicted of an offence punishable by imprisonment and the conviction reflects on her fitness to practise, or tends to bring her profession into disrepute. She denied that she had been convicted and put the prosecuting standards committee to proof on that aspect. After considering the evidence and submissions the Tribunal found the charge proved.
The Auckland Prison manager provided evidence on a number of matters relevant to the seriousness of Ms Murray’s offences, as well as its consequences. He set out in detail the risks posed by the items in question, not only the cigarettes and lighter, but in particular the use to which cell phones in prisons can be put.
In addition, the Prison manager gave evidence about the important relationship between prison officials and lawyers visiting prisoner clients. He acknowledged the importance of the ability of lawyers to have access to their clients more easily than a lay visitor.
The prison manager said (and this was unchallenged):“Generous access within prisons to lawyers supports our justice system and I believe is of great value and to be respected. Ms Murray’s conduct has caused significant erosion of this trust and confidence with prison authorities. I personally feel I can no longer simply rely on the integrity of the legal profession when making decisions in the best interests of the security of Auckland Prison, and ultimately the safety of the public.”
Ms Murray’s actions caused a review of prison security and the imposition of a number of restrictions on visits between lawyers and prisoners.
It is this aspect of Ms Murray’s abuse of her privileges as a lawyer which was seen as the most aggravating feature of her offending by both the District Court Judge and the High Court Judge who considered this offending.
Another aggravating feature was the defence Ms Murray advanced, that the items had been planted upon Mr Reid by two prison officers.
“We note that although this was a summary offence, carrying only a maximum of three months’ imprisonment, from a professional disciplinary point of view, it goes directly to the heart of the standing of the profession in the community,” the Tribunal said.
The Tribunal noted that there had been three adverse disciplinary findings against Ms Murray in the space of a five-year career. These were not only an aggravating feature, but had “considerable relevance” to the assessment of proper penalty when considering protection of the public and likelihood of rehabilitation.