The decision relates to the lawyer’s behaviour at two Christmas functions in 2015
James Desmond Gardner-Hopkins had faced six charges related to inappropriate sexual behaviour brought by a National Standards Committee on behalf of NZLS.
According to the NZLS, the charges stem from Gardner-Hopkins’ behaviour at two Christmas functions in 2015, when the lawyer was based in Wellington.
“The first five charges related to Mr Gardner-Hopkins’s behaviour at the firm’s Christmas party,” NZLS said. “At that party, five incidents of drunken behaviour occurred with junior staff members involving tactile dancing and other physical contact. The sixth charge related to his behaviour at another firm function held at his home.”
The tribunal found that the conduct in all the charges relating to six separate incidents met the test of being regarded as “disgraceful or dishonourable.”
“The profession expects of its members that those who work with lawyers are respected and safe,” the tribunal said in its decision. “A basic behaviour expected of lawyers towards those they work with is that they are respectful and do not abuse their position of power. There is no place for objectification of women or indeed any person, by those in the profession of law.”
“At the outset, I want to acknowledge the courage of the victims and witnesses who came forward and bravely gave evidence for the National Standards Committee,” said Tiana Epati, president of NZLS. “This is an important case for the legal profession. The decision by the tribunal sets a clear benchmark for the standards expected of lawyers, not only within an office environment but when attending work functions and events.”
The NZLS said that the matter will now be set down for a penalty hearing.