Auckland lawyer Bharat Parshotam has been suspended from the profession for nine months after falsely witnessing documents he didn't see his clients sign.
It is not the first time that Parshotam has fallen foul of the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal, which said he already had four findings of unsatisfactory conduct against him since 2010.
Parshotam - a Mt Roskill lawyer described by the tribunal as "very experienced and busy" with clients mostly from the Hindi and Gujarati communities - admitted two charges of negligence or incompetence.
These stemmed from complaints about Parshotam falsely witnessing documents he had not actually seen clients sign.
In one of the cases, a husband had forged his wife's signature on documents related to a loan against their property, which she knew nothing of.
Although there was no suggestion that Parshotam knew of this forgery, he accepted his client's explanation that his wife was too busy to attend his offices and allowed him to take the documents away to be signed.
When the client bought the documents back, Parshotam compounded this error by certifying he had properly witnessed these signatures.
The women in question discovered in March last year that her home had been sold without her knowledge and subsequently discovered her husband's forgery.
Parshotam also assured a colleague that he had witnessed the woman's signature.
"It is troubling that Mr Parshotam was prepared to lie to another solicitor about his own client, and at a time when he was aware that the lender was taking steps to enforce the mortgage over the home," the tribunal said.
When the woman complained to the Law Society, Parshotam refuted it.
"This was not just a bare denial. It was a four-page letter of elaborate deception and blaming of his client," the tribunal said.
The tribunal, in a decision delivered this week by chairperson Judge Dale Clarkson, said it was accepted that Parshotam's conduct was not wilful or for personal gain.
The disciplinary body also pointed out the references they received that spoke on how Parshotam was a respected member of the community.
It is troubling that Mr Parshotam was prepared to lie to another solicitor about his own client, and at a time when he was aware that the lender was taking steps to enforce the mortgage over the home.
SHARE THIS QUOTE:
But there were also aggravating features.
The tribunal said that when Parshotam reassured his colleague about having witnessed the wife's signature, he put her in the "invidious position of having to defend herself and provide proof of the forgery".
"Not only was this a complete breach of trust towards his client but was also an utterly unprofessional and seriously improper way to deal with a colleague..." it said.
The most serious aggravating feature, however, was him lying to the Law Society.
The tribunal, after considering an appropriate penalty, suspended Parshotam to nine months and ordered him to pay around $15,500 in costs.
"This practitioner made a number of serious errors, in terms of falsely witnessing documents and then certifying that he had done so, and failing to deal properly with a conflict of interest, that show a disturbing pattern. He has been shown to have lied in his professional role to colleagues, clients and the disciplinary body of his profession. These actions raise clear questions about his fitness to practise," the tribunal said.
New Zealand Law Society President Kathryn Beck, in commenting on the outcome, said lawyers may not under any circumstances take shortcuts when witnessing the signing of documents or in certifying that they have witnessed signing.
"No matter how busy they are, no matter how well they may know the person who presents the document, lawyers must always observe the signing if they are going to attest the genuineness of the signatures. The fact that one of the signatures was, in fact, forged, is a graphic illustration of why a lawyer must be present at all signings," she said.