Lawyer suspended after faking illness to get out of court

A Rotorua lawyer has been suspended and fined after being caught lying about sickness to avoid appearing in court.

Brett Cooper, a Rotorua lawyer specialising in defending drunk drivers, has been suspended for 18 months after it was found he faked sickness to avoid appearing in court.
 
Cooper appealed his case after the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal found him guilty of misconduct in March. The appeal was dismissed by Justice Geoffrey Venning.
 
This case arose from an incident in May 28, 2012 when Cooper was ordered to appear at the Rotorua District Court.
 
Two weeks prior, Cooper emailed the court asking for the date to be moved as he had another matter to attend to in Christchurch on the same day. The presiding judge declined the request and instructed Cooper to appear in Rotorua District Court instead.
 
On 28 May, Cooper sent an email to the court saying he had the flu. A medical certificate was attached.
 
It was later discovered that Cooper had instead flown down to Christchurch to appear at the other hearing.
 
During the appeal, Cooper stated he was too sick to argue the full defended hearing in Rotorua but well enough to fly to Christchurch for the sentencing hearing. The judge rejected this claim.
 
“This was serious misconduct on the part of the practitioner akin to wilful dishonesty. He deliberately misled the Court,” Justice Venning said.
 
“That impacted on the business of the Court, the client and the administration of justice generally. It is a serious matter for counsel to mislead the Court. Judges properly place reliance on counsel’s advice and often act on the basis of it. It is a serious matter to breach the trust that judges place in counsel's advice.”
 
Cooper was also ordered to pay costs of $27,880.
 

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