Disgraced lawyer Warwick Reid's role as advocate causes outrage

By John Cousins

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Disgraced Tauranga lawyer Warwick Reid insists his days of infamy are over despite outrage at the discovery he was working as an advocate in employment disputes.

Mr Reid hit the international headlines when he was jailed for eight years in 1990 for taking HK$12.4 million in bribes while serving as a top Hong Kong prosecutor.

His corrupt past came back to haunt him yesterday when a top Hong Kong newspaper reported that Mr Reid was taking cases for Tauranga people who felt they had been unfairly dismissed from their jobs.

Hong Kong's legal community was astounded, with the director of Public Prosecutions Kevin Zervos saying it was astonishing that someone whose offences struck at the very heart of the justice system should be allowed to offer legal advice of any kind.

It was revealed that Reid Legal, a company 99 per cent owned by a family trust set up by Mr Reid, was offering advice and representing people in employment disputes.

Reid Legal's website did not disclose Mr Reid's fall from grace. He was struck off as a practising lawyer in New Zealand in 1994.

However, Mr Reid insisted to the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend yesterday that he always told clients about his criminal past and that no one had ever objected.

"I am a million miles removed from that scenario. I was a very senior government servant in a position of power that I admit I abused. I am now representing, at a very low level, people with employment grievances. I am not in the position of taking or receiving bribes. I am using my skills to assist people because the legal aid system lets them down."

Mr Reid said he was not in breach of the Legal Practitioners Act because lay people were entitled to appear for clients before the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) or the Employment Court.

He was averaging one case a month. "It is partly a hobby, I will never get rich out of it."

He said he fell into this work by accident when his ex-wife was made redundant and he took her case to the ERA in August 2011.

It quickly led to an approach from Rachel Rolston from the Tauranga Advocacy Network who wanted to use his expertise to assist people who approached her seeking help.

Reid Legal now operated under the auspices of the network and Ms Rolston was the manager and sole director of Reid Legal. Mr Reid explained that his daughter Cassie had been the director but she stood down after he was bankrupted by Inland Revenue 18 months ago.

His bankruptcy traced back to his former Greerton-based mussel processing business Kiwigreen Mussels Ltd which he owned for five years before selling after it started losing money in the early 2000s.

Inland Revenue reassessed his tax liability going back about six years and issued a large tax bill which he could not pay. The Official Assignee was not happy with Cassie continuing as a director of Reid Legal and she was replaced by Ms Rolston on March 30, 2012.

Mr Reid, 65, said he was not drawing any income from the company although the Reid Family, including him, were the beneficiaries of the family trust which held 99 of the 100 shares.

His main income since he sold the mussel business has been as a bus driver and he has just started receiving the pension.

Asked if he had any dishonesty left in his character, Mr Reid responded: "Absolutely not. The last seven or eight years I have earned a living driving buses. I am an ordinary person with no position of authority.

"My days of infamy are over, I hope. Reid Legal is a little hobby thing that has got the attention of the international press for all the wrong reasons."

He said his presentation of employment cases had never been adversely affected by his past.

Mr Reid said he was "on side" with the New Zealand Law Society after it approached him a year ago about the work he was doing.

New Zealand Law Society spokesman Geoff Adlam said society had been in contact with Mr Reid. "From our inquiries we are satisfied that he is not practising as a lawyer and is not giving advice in the areas which are reserved for lawyers.

"Mr Reid does not hold a practising certificate and is therefore not entitled to refer to himself as a lawyer or to provide legal services in New Zealand."

The New Zealand Bar Association declined to comment.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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