The Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal is showing a troubling disregard for the notion that indigenous persons should be regarded as special.
It has ruled that an ex-lawyer, one Davina Murray, be struck off because she was unanimously found “not a fit and proper person to operate as a legal practitioner”.
Bearing in mind the fitness and propriety of some legal practitioners of Alf’s acquaintance, this is a damning decision.
Because Murray is an indigenous person it seemed improbable she would be subjected to such harsh treatment.
But the NZ Herald today is reporting:
The decision was delivered by Judge Dale Clarkson at a Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal penalty hearing in Auckland this morning.
The five-person panel heard brief submissions before taking a short adjournment to consider its ruling.Judge Clarkson said Murray’s behaviour was “of such a serious level, no response short of strike off would be a proper one”.
For those who have forgotten, Murray was convicted and sentenced to 50 hours’ community work in 2013 for smuggling an iPhone, cigarettes and a lighter to her client, convicted murderer Liam Reid, in Mt Eden Prison.
It is astonishing that a lawyer would do those things and Alf accordingly was inclined to believe her contention during her trial that the items were planted on Reid by Corrections officers.
To his profound disappointment, she finally acknowledged her guilt at sentencing in a letter to the court.
She has had something of a bad time, poor lass.
She was unsuccessful then in a bid for a discharge without conviction and an appeal to the High Court in February 2014 also failed.
Months earlier her practicing certificate, which would have allowed her to work as a lawyer, was refused.
The tribunal heard today Murray was an undischarged bankrupt and the Auckland Standards Committee was not seeking costs.
Mind you, she didn’t go down without a fight.
The case previously came before the tribunal in December when Murray’s lawyer Warren Pyke argued there was no formal notation of a conviction being recorded against her name.
But the tribunal dismissed the appeal and found she had “been convicted of an offence punishable by imprisonment and the conviction reflects on her fitness to practise, or tends to bring her profession into disrepute”.
Murray’s actions can be said to have done the community a great deal of good, because a review of prison security led to the imposition of a number of restrictions on visits between lawyers and prisoners.
Auckland Prison manager Tom Sherlock provided evidence to the court about the danger of such offending.
“Ms Murray’s conduct has caused significant erosion of this trust and confidence with prison authorities. I personally feel I can no longer simply rely on the integrity of the legal profession when making decisions in the best interests of the security of Auckland Prison, and ultimately the safety of the public,” he said.
Reid is serving a minimum term of 23 years in the slammer for raping and killing a deaf woman, Emma Agnew, in Christchurch in 2007, and the rape, attempted murder and robbery of a 21-year-old student in Dunedin nine days later.
This suggests he is a highly disagreeable person.
Why he should be allowed to be visited by anyone, including a lawyer, is beyond Alf’s ken.
And if lawyers are now impeded in their access to incarcerated clients of his anti-social disposition – well, that’s great.
So credit where credit is due: that’s what Murray has achieved, by the sounds of it.
In a statement, Law Society president Chris Moore said Murray’s offending had seriously threatened the easier access lawyers got to their clients in prison compared to that given to other visitors.
“Ms Murray’s actions were a flagrant disregard of the mutual trust and respect between a lawyer and prison authorities. The access rights lawyers enjoy are privileges which must be strongly respected and honoured by lawyers as they support our whole justice system.
“The abuse of that relationship has brought the legal profession into disrepute. It also caused a review of prison security and has resulted in increased restrictions on visits between lawyers and prisoners. The Tribunal decision is fully justified.”
Murray was not in court for today’s hearing.
Maybe she was out doing community work, to which she was sentenced in Auckland District Court.
Then again – come to think of it – she was generously treated by the court as befits her special status as an indigenous persona and was sentenced to only 50 hours community work.
Murray’s lawyer on that occasion, by the way, was Peter Williams QC, who argued for her to be discharged without conviction on the grounds she had suffered “indignity and public disgrace” and her health had suffered as a result of the publicity surrounding the court proceedings.
He read several affidavits to the court which vouched for Murray’s good character, although if Alf had been the judge he would have paid scant heed to the one from “jailhouse lawyer” Arthur Taylor who said if she was stopped from practising, it would be a “great loss to the marginalised and underprivileged”.
Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia also submitted an affidavit that Murray had always “struck me as having good character”.
This tells us us plenty about Tariana’s judgement.
Murray, by the way, believed Reid was innocent.
She also had the hots for him.
During a defended hearing in July her feelings for the rapist and killer were revealed in text messages to a friend.
“He makes me laugh. He makes me cry. He makes me feel beautiful. I love him like I have never loved anyone before. If he doesn’t get out do I just shrug my shoulders and say, ‘oh well’?”
She later texted: “He’s the best kisser I’ve ever kissed” and he was “seriously the best – it’s like he just gets me.”
It is not altogether clear her feelings were reciprocated.
However, phone calls between Murray and Reid showed a different side to their relationship.
In one exchange, the prisoner tells her to “f….. toughen up” and on another occasion threatens to “smash” her.
After all those trials and tribulations, Alf was inclined to be sceptical that Ms Murray would be treated harshly by the disciplinary tribunal too, especially bearing in mind she had once been a Maori Party candidate.
Just imagine if she had been elected in 2011 and re-elected last year. Today she would be eagerly awaiting a Parliamentary pay rise.