New Zealand Law Society - Lawyers Complaints Service: Suspension follows South Canterbury Finance convictions

Lawyers Complaints Service: Suspension follows South Canterbury Finance convictions

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Edward Oral Sullivan has been censured and suspended for three years from 29 April 2016 by the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal.

In [2016] NZLCDT 13, Mr Sullivan admitted two charges.

The first related to the administration of a family trust and the estates of a married couple. Mr Sullivan admitted charges of negligence or incompetence of such a degree as to reflect on his fitness to practise or as to tend to bring the profession into disrepute.

The Tribunal found that Mr Sullivan’s abrogation of duty resulted in the risk of “serious loss” to the family trust and the estates, with the risk being averted by “other interventions”.

In the second case, he admitted he had been convicted of offences that were punishable by imprisonment that reflect on his fitness to practise as a solicitor or as to tend to bring the profession into disrepute. Mr Sullivan was convicted the Timaru High Court on four charges for dishonesty offences related to his role in the collapse of South Canterbury Finance Limited. He was sentenced to 12 months’ home detention and 400 hours’ community service.

The Tribunal also noted that when it had asked Mr Sullivan whether he accepted responsibility, or was still in denial of the findings of Justice Heath, “Mr Sullivan’s response was clear that he has not accepted that finding”. In his sentencing notes Justice Heath said: “You have not truly accepted responsibility for the offending. No evidence of remorse is evident. I believe you remain in denial because you find it difficult to accept that you acted in a dishonest way.”

Previous record

The Tribunal said that the combination of the two matters before it and Mr Sullivan’s previous disciplinary record meant that he was “on the cusp of strike-off”.

In 2009, Mr Sullivan was found guilty of professional misconduct in relation to authorising the taking of fees contrary to specific directions from client.

In 2013 he was found guilty of unsatisfactory conduct for failing to comply with rules relating to the signing of authorities for the investment of funds on behalf of clients in his former firm’s nominee company.

Mr Sullivan was censured on both occasions, fined and ordered to pay compensation and costs.

In deciding on imposing a three-year suspension, the Tribunal said it had regard to:

  • Mr Sullivan’s lengthy career;
  • his exemplary reputation in his community;
  • his age; and
  • the fact of his retirement from practice and his written undertaking never again to apply for a practising certificate.

The censure

At the end of the hearing, the Tribunal censured Mr Sullivan as follows:

“Mr Sullivan – you are before the Tribunal today having admitted charges relating to failures of duty in respect of a family trust and two estates.

“You have also admitted that you have been convicted of offences punishable by imprisonment.

“You have admitted that these matters reflect on your fitness to practise as a solicitor and tend to bring the profession into disrepute before the public.

“This Tribunal determines that, along with other penalties imposed, you should be censured.

“You have practised as a lawyer for over 40 years. In that time you have built for yourself a reputation and clientele to be envied.

“Your failures now and your wrong placement of trust in the late Mr Hubbard had the effect of seriously undermining the confidence of the public in the profession.

“You abdicated your responsibilities in a seriously unprofessional way.

“You are censured.”

As well as the censure and suspension, Mr Sullivan was ordered to pay the Law Society its costs of $29,590.84 and $5,788 Tribunal costs.

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