Auckland lawyer Brian Robert Ellis has been struck off the roll of barristers and solicitors of the High Court by the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal.
The tribunal had found Mr Ellis guilty of misconduct. In June 2018 in another matter it found he had acted for a client when he had a conflict of interest and censured and suspended him from practice for six months.
The tribunal has now ordered him struck off from 2 November 2018. The striking off order has been appealed and therefore under the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006 it operates as a suspension.
In the latest proceeding, he was found to have persistently failed to comply with his trust account reporting obligations, to have adversely dealt with his client’s trust funds without the client’s knowledge and to have deducted an unjustified fee from funds held in trust for his client.
In deciding to strike Mr Ellis off the roll, the tribunal found unanimously that he was not a fit and proper person to remain a lawyer.
Including the unjustified fee deduction, he now had seven disciplinary findings against him. These displayed a pattern of disregard for principles, the rules and regulations and past decisions. That prior disciplinary history demonstrated that Mr Ellis lacked insight into his professional obligations.
The tribunal said it could not have confidence that similar conduct would be avoided in the future and there was a risk of reoffending. There was a clear need for deterrence and protection of the public.
As well as making an order to strike Mr Ellis off the roll, the tribunal required him to honour his agreement to pay $810 to his former client and to pay prosecution costs of $31,600.
“Trust accounting responsibilities are at the heart of relationship between lawyers and their clients. Any adverse dealings by lawyers with funds which are held in trust for clients will always be treated extremely seriously,” New Zealand Law Society President Kathryn Beck says.
“This practitioner has let down the legal profession. Protection of the interests of clients is paramount and there is no place in our profession for anyone who does not hold that above all else in their work.”