New Zealand Law Society - Lawyers Complaints Service: Suspended for misleading the court

Lawyers Complaints Service: Suspended for misleading the court

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Brett Cooper has been suspended for 18 months from 2 March 2015 after the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal found that he misled the court.

In [2015] NZLCDT 7, Mr Cooper – a barrister who was practising in Rotorua – faced two charges of misconduct, which were also laid with alternative charges of negligence or incompetence in his professional capacity.

Mr Cooper denied both charges of misconduct and the alternative charges of negligence or incompetence. He admitted alternative charges of unsatisfactory conduct, in that his conduct fell short of the standard of competence and diligence that a member of the public is entitled to expect of a reasonably competent lawyer.

The first charge was that Mr Cooper misled the court.

He had been directed to attend the Rotorua District Court on 28 May 2012 to argue an application that he had made for an adjournment. He did not appear, but sent an email to the Court on that morning stating that he was unwell and could not appear and conduct a hearing to an acceptable professional standard. He attached a medical certificate.

When the matter was called, the Court asked another lawyer, who was in Court as duty solicitor, to contact Mr Cooper. He did so by phone and then informed the Court that Mr Cooper was ill.

Mr Cooper was, in fact, appearing on another matter in the Christchurch District Court.

The second charge was that in the overall conduct of proceedings in a case (the same matter on which he had been directed to appear on 28 May 2012) he did not conduct himself to a professional standard and failed to comply with his overriding duties as an officer of the court and to facilitate the administration of justice.

He failed to organise himself to avoid conflicting appearances in different courts and he failed to instruct an agent to appear on his behalf.

“The respondent, although unwell, chose to go to Christchurch,” the Tribunal said.

“He travelled from Rotorua to Auckland and then to Christchurch where he conducted a hearing and then returned. It was a plain choice of going to Christchurch rather than remaining in Rotorua and appearing in Court there.

“For those reasons the Tribunal has found that charge one is proved.

“In respect of charge two, the respondent has pleaded guilty to the alternative charge of unsatisfactory conduct. The Tribunal has accepted that plea after taking into account that much of what is alleged against the respondent has been included in charge one such that there is in this charge a strong element of repetition,” the Tribunal said.

Following the hearing of the charges on 2 March, the Tribunal ordered interim suppression of Mr Cooper’s name. That name suppression order has now been lifted.

As well as the suspension, the Tribunal ordered Mr Cooper to pay $27,925.62 Law Society costs and reimburse the Law Society $5,540 Tribunal costs.

Mr Cooper is appealing the length of the suspension and the costs orders.

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