New Zealand Law Society - Lawyers Complaints Service: Suspended for negligence

Lawyers Complaints Service: Suspended for negligence

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Auckland lawyer Bharat Parshotam has been suspended from practising for nine months from 1 June 2016 by the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal.

In [2016] NZLCDT 15 Mr Parshotam admitted charges of negligence or incompetence of such a degree as to reflect on his fitness to practise or as to bring his profession into disrepute.

The charges arose from complaints by two separate clients. In both instances Mr Parshotam falsely witnessed documents he had not seen signed by the clients.

He then falsely certified to Land Information New Zealand that he had witnessed the signing of loan documents and authority and instruction forms respectively.

One complaint

In one of the complaints, Mr Parshotam had failed to witness a Mrs R’s signature on four documents.

Mr R had forged Mrs R’s signature and she knew nothing of the loan that was secured against their jointly owned property. The Tribunal noted that there was no suggestion that Mr Parshotam was involved in or knew of this forgery.

Subsequently the couple separated after Mrs R discovered her husband’s deception.

“Mr Parshotam says that he had acted for Mr and Mrs R for many years and completely trusted Mr R. He accepted Mr R’s explanation that his wife was too busy at work to attend the practitioner’s office and allowed Mr R to take the documents away for signature,” the Tribunal noted.

“This occurred in early July 2014. Mrs R became aware of this fraud in April 2015 and confronted her husband who admitted his forgery. This apparently followed Mrs R discovering in March 2015 that their home had been sold without her knowledge.”

Mrs R alerted the solicitors who had acted for the lender that her signature on the loan agreement had been forged. That solicitor told her that he had been assured by Mr Prashotam that he had advised Mrs R on the guarantee and witnessed her signature.

The solicitor told Mrs R that Mr Parshotam was a practitioner of many years’ experience and high integrity, whom he believed.

“Thus Mrs R was put in the position of being called a liar by Mr Parshotam’s (misled) colleague,” the Tribunal said.

“It is troubling that Mr Parshotam was prepared to lie to another solicitor about his own client and at a time when he was aware that the lender was taking steps to enforce the mortgage over the home.”

Mrs R instructed new lawyers and sought to obtain files relating to the sale. Mr Parshotam did not provide them for a significant time.

When she did not receive her files, Mrs R complained about the whole transaction to the New Zealand Law Society. In response to her complaint, Mr Parshotam wrote to the Law Society refuting the complaint.

“This was not just a bare denial. It was a four-page letter of elaborate deception and blaming of his client,” the Tribunal said.

Mrs R responded to that letter by disagreeing with all of the points Mr Parshotam made, annexing a timesheet demonstrating that she had been at work on the day when she had allegedly signed the mortgage.

“She also attached a report from a handwriting expert, which assessed the signatures as forged, and confirmed an opinion that the forgery was by her husband.”

Some six weeks later Mr Parshotam filed an affidavit with the Law Society acknowledging the complaint and sincerely apologising for the misleading response.

“He professed to have been under severe stress and said he had reacted inappropriately instead of admitting immediately to the NZLS that he had fallen below his own, and prescribed, professional standards.”

Second complaint

Mr and Mrs P complained to the Law Society that Mr Parshotam had acted for multiple parties on a property transfer where a clear conflict of interest arose, and that he had falsely witnessed Mrs P’s signature on A and I forms and falsely certified the execution of the documents to LINZ.

“Mr Parshotam had said, in explanation, that at his first meeting with the multiple parties Mrs P had requested that in future she not be required to attend the office, for religious reasons, and that she would sign the documents and return them for Mr Parshotam to witness. In this case there is no suggestion of a false signature or that Mrs P did not sign the documents.”

In response, Mr Parshotam said it would have been sensible for him to have “at least obtained waivers in respect of the disputed property”. He also acknowledged that Mrs P did not sign the A and I form in his presence.

He said that having time to reflect, he made an error when agreeing to the concessionary practice Mrs P had sought. “Against my better judgment [sic] and usual strict practice, I relented to the request because I was swayed not only by the client, but also the practice adopted by a senior practitioner. It was a unique circumstance but one which, in hindsight was unwise”.

He then said: “I sincerely regret making an exception for them to my usual practice.”

Finally, Mr Parshotam said: “I assure you that the departure from my usual practice when it comes to witnessing was unique given this particular set of circumstances and that I will not be granting such a concession again”.

“This was another blatant lie made at a time when Mr Parshotam knew of the R complaint and his false witnessing of the documents in that matter also,” the Tribunal said. “At this point, of course, he had not acknowledged that other lapse to the NZLS.”

High end negligence

The Tribunal said the conduct involved “high end negligence” and Mr Parshotam’s errors of judgement were serious and multiple.

“This practitioner had made a number of serious errors, in terms of falsely witnessing documents and then certifying that he had done so, and failing to deal properly with a conflict of interest, that show a disturbing pattern,” the Tribunal said.

“He has also shown to have lied in his professional role to colleagues, clients and the disciplinary body of his profession. These actions raise clear questions about his fitness to practise.”

The Tribunal accepted that Mr Parshotam had not engaged in wilful or reckless breach of the relevant rules, that the conduct was not for personal gain and also that he had a high standing in the community. However, he had four previous findings of unsatisfactory conduct against him.

As well as suspending Mr Parshotam, the Tribunal ordered him to pay the New Zealand Law Society $10,531 standards committee costs and $4,197 Tribunal costs.

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