The NZLS National Standards Committee had levelled several misconduct charges at the lawyer
The New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal has set a May hearing for a misconduct case involving an ex-Russell McVeagh partner.
The New Zealand Law Society (NZLS) National Standards Committee had levelled eight charges of misconduct/unsatisfactory conduct at the lawyer, whose identity has been suppressed. Five charges involved incidents that occurred at a Russell McVeagh Christmas function in Wellington, while three referenced incidents that took place at a team Christmas party hosted by the accused lawyer.
“Various forms of sexual misconduct are alleged,” the disciplinary tribunal wrote in a decision released on 22 March.
The decision confirmed that the unnamed lawyer will face the tribunal on the week of 17 May.
The disciplinary tribunal also announced a ruling regarding the admissibility of hearsay evidence related to the case, which the National Standards Committee had been looking to present to back up one of the sexual misconduct charges. According to the tribunal, the NZLS had never received a written statement from the victim in question, who had also indicated through her barrister that she did not want to be involved in the disciplinary process. Nonetheless, the victim had discussed the incident with five confidants who were connected to the event in question.
The triunal cited the Evidence Act 2006 in its in its judgment to disallow the admission of the hearsay evidence.
“While we have considerable sympathy for the alleged victim’s position, there is no ‘compelling reason’ why she should be ‘exempted from giving evidence’,” the disciplinary tribunal said. “Sadly, there are many cases of sexual abuse that are heard throughout the country every day and, despite the obvious trauma caused to victims, they are expected to give evidence to support the allegations of fact made against an accused person.”
The tribunal pointed out that it would have had “no hesitation” in allowing evidence to be provided via alternative means in a closed hearing room, and for the victim to have a support person on hand.
The disciplinary tribunal also highlighted the “nuanced differences” in the accounts of the victim’s five confidants.
“Two of the five confidants do not state precisely what they were told but express their own conclusions about what happened. Evidence such as that could not be admitted on any basis,” the tribunal said.
The NZLS said in a statement on its website that it could not comment any further on the ruling at the present time.