Lawyer suspended for DV back in practice as duty lawyer representing DV victims

The lawyer's return to the profession sparked blowback from his ex-partner and legal professionals

Lawyer suspended for DV back in practice as duty lawyer representing DV victims

A lawyer who had been convicted and suspended for assaulting his girlfriend, champion triathlete Amanda Watkinson, has returned to practice – as a duty lawyer who has represented victims of domestic violence, reported the NZ Herald.

Kris Dender’s return to the profession was accompanied by him changing his name to Kris Tuanui. At present, he is a duty lawyer in the Taupō District Court and continues to work with Hastings-based Mansfield Law.

In 2016, he was convicted after punching and strangling Watkinson at her flat. He was sentenced to nine months in home detention, and suspended his practising certificate voluntarily following his arrest.

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In 2017, the Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal suspended Dender for two years, but opted not to strike him off.

“There was no dispute that this was serious criminal conduct of the sort which inevitably brings the profession into disrepute,” the tribunal said in its 2017 censure. “It is a profession where the standards of personal conduct are held to be high and there will not be tolerance of any repetition by you of serious criminal offending”.

After his suspension, Dender received his practising certificate in 2021. He finished training as a duty lawyer last year and returned to practice in January.

Watkinson learned of Dender’s reinstatement when NZME contacted her. She shared that she continued to experience traumatic effects from Dender’s assault, including anxiety.

“I think it’s surprising given the current climate on domestic violence,” she told NZME. “I feel that a lawyer is supposed to be someone who is supposed to be trusted and respected, so it feels like an interesting call to let someone with a criminal conviction back in…It seems bizarre that, in the Law Society’s eyes, it’s apparently okay”.

Watkinson’s sentiments were echoed by some legal professionals who pointed to domestic violence as a major problem in New Zealand and questioned the acceptance of lawyers with criminal records in the criminal justice system.

Meanwhile, Dender told NZME that he took full responsibility for the incident and was sincerely apologetic.

“My personal struggles at the time are no excuse for my grave mistake, which I deeply regret. Since then, I have taken significant steps to ensure this never happens again. Notably, I stepped away from the legal profession for five years to develop the necessary skills and address my personal issues. This included completing a domestic violence course, one-on-one counselling, and other personal development programmes”, he said.

According to the Herald, the Law Society did not challenge Dender’s application for a practising certificate as Kris Tuanui. The organisation told NZME that it had participated in training with practice approval committees; moreover, lawyers who had previously been convicted were required to provide evidence of their reformation.

 

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