Lawyer who has been struck off was prescient – sort of – in sounding a political suicide warning

One of the Maori Party’s highest-ranked candidates was harshly critical of the party’s consultation process and its flirtation with National, back in 2005. She said she believed it was political suicide.

As it turns out (you will learn later in this post) the candidate has just come to a sticky end professionally.

The trenchant criticisms were made during an interview on Radio Waatea ahead of the party’s MPs arriving at Parliament to discuss what stance they should take in negotiations over forming a government.

Third on the party’s list behind co-leaders Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples at that time, she challenged the way a series of party hui had been organised and run.

The party was also ignoring supporters’ sensitivity over National. It had to respect the fact that most people who voted for it also voted for Labour. “Any sort of move towards going to National will … kill this party dead. We’ve got to say that our best position is to be independent, because that way we’re not going to be contaminated by either party.”

The aspirant MP was Atareta Poananga, who could not beat the corpulent Parekura Horomia, although no doubt she could have beaten him hands down in a running race over 50 metres because just about any politician could do that except maybe Gerry Brownlee.

She now sits on the Gisborne District Council and her local health board.

But on the national stage, she popped up in the headlines again in 2008 when she became embroiled in a row over the process followed when her former partner, Derek Fox, was chosen by the Maori Party to stand for the Ikaroa Rawhiti seat.

Derek Fox believes his bid to unseat Labour MP Parekura Horomia has been undermined by his former partner’s criticism of the Maori Party’s selection process.

After a week of campaigning with four other candidates for the party’s Ikaroa-Rawhiti nomination, Mr Fox, a Maori media stalwart, won by what insiders are calling a landslide last Friday night.

But Atareta Poananga – who also put her hand up for the job – called into question the credibility of the process, claiming special votes were not counted and vote scrutineers did not like her.

The row became heated and she explained her position to the local newspaper (here) to clarify things.

Aspiring Maori Party politician Atareta Poananga is angered by “insinuations” in local and national media yesterday that she refused to accept the appointment of her former partner Derek Fox to the Ikaroa Rawhiti candidacy. It was the selection process itself she was challenging, she said last night.

In each case, you will note, Atareta Poananga was niggling about the processes followed.

It seems she is a stickler for having thing done properly.

Alf accordingly was astonished to learn here at Stuff that –

A former Maori Party candidate has been struck off as a lawyer after falsifying 20 signatures while processing Treaty of Waitangi claims.

Gisborne lawyer Atareta Poananga admitted to four charges, including forgery and false declaration, for misconduct from 2008 to 2010 at the Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal.

Chairman Judge Dale Clarkson said striking Poananga off the roll of barristers and solicitors was the only proper response “in order to protect the public and the reputation of the profession”.

Judge Clarkson said the dishonesty was made worse by attempts to convince the tribunal that Ms Poananga had serious health issues before the hearing.

Poananga submitted a medical report showing she was unfit to undergo disciplinary action.

However, following an independent assessment, the tribunal discovered Poananga “attempted to skew the results of her tests”.

“Unfortunately, the practitioner’s behaviour around the medical assessment did not reflect well on her fitness to be a legal practitioner,” Clarkson said.

“We find that she is not a fit and proper person to be a practitioner.”

So what triggered this fall from grace?

It seems she was contracted to work for a chambers in Auckland, specialising in Treaty of Waitangi claims.

She was responsible for about 35 claims covering much of the North Island and she claimed to have the authorisation to place her signature on the applications by some of her clients.

However, Poananga filed a document containing what was supposed to be a claimant’s signature, and later admitted that she was not authorised to act on his behalf at the time.

She said the electronic signature was placed there by her personal assistant.

In another incident, Poananga placed a claimant’s signature in her own hand on his legal aid application and later filed an affidavit saying that the signature was in fact the client’s, knowing that was untrue.

She also submitted 17 legal aid forms in 2008 where she placed the signatures of people on each form. Each application contained a statutory declaration and she signed them knowing they were false.

Oh dear. When it comes to proper processes, things have become egregiously lax, eh?

But let’s hear her side of the story.

Poananga’s counsel argued that she did not have any full-time supervision and her “primary concern was to help her people and that no harm had been caused to anyone as a result of her offending”.

He said she was under extreme pressure as the deadline for filing claims under the Treaty of Waitangi approached. She had to travel to isolated locations to meet her clients.

The tribunal accepted she may have been under pressure.

But Judge Clarkson said she was not the only one working under those circumstances.

“Despite the impression that the practitioner (and her supporters) appear to have had, it was not within the power of the practitioner’s clients, to legitimise forgery and false attestation simply by saying that they were happy for the practitioner to sign for them,” she said.

“We consider the lack of integrity demonstrated by the misconduct in this matter, particularly when accompanied by failure to recognise it as such, means that strike off is the only proper response in order to protect the public and the reputation of the profession.

“We reach this view unanimously as a tribunal of five members.”


This looks suspiciously like political suicide for any aspirations Atareta Poananga might still harbour to win Parekura’s seat.


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