A "reckless" Auckland lawyer who instructed a client to pay $50,000 in fees into his personal account and earned interest on it for six weeks has been found guilty of misconduct.
Richard Zhao was this month found guilty by the Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal for the 2013 offending.
Zhao's Chinese client, who was referred to as "Ms L" in the tribunal's decision, sought assistance from Zhao for family and immigration issues in March 2013.
After their first meeting in China, Zhao, a trained trust account supervisor, gave Ms L his personal bank account to pay the $50,000 into.
Ms L deposited $49,975 into his account and it was transferred into his savings account by his wife the same day.
Zhao claimed Ms L wanted to pay the money in cash before he left China, which he deemed unacceptable, but as he didn't have his trust account details with him, he gave her his personal account details.
He said he wasn't aware she had made the payment until six and half weeks after she had made it. During that time, Zhao received $767.75 of interest in his savings account, a portion of which was due to Ms L's money.
Zhao then transferred Ms L's funds into the trust account of his firm, Richard Zhao Lawyers.
The tribunal considered Zhao's actions "reckless" and said he should have monitored the funds coming in and ensured they were directed to the trust account.
"Instead, the funds were wrongly held in Mr Zhao's personal accounts for a period of more than six weeks. We regard this as a lengthy period in the context of this case.
"It is also unclear why Mr Zhao could not have provided his trust bank account details at an earlier stage . . . Mr Zhao did not have a clear explanation for this."
Zhao said he was willing to pay Ms L the interest she is entitled to but that hasn't happened.
In addition to his misconduct regarding funds, Zhao also refused to return Ms L her full file, including her family's passports when she tried to end her client relationship with Zhao.
Zhao said it was because Ms L had produced new identity information for her children which showed they were born to a different father than what the original documents showed and he believed she was attempting forgery.
The tribunal believed Zhao was genuinely concerned about how the documents would be used, but said he should have immediately given them to authorities.
This conduct aggravated the central offending, the tribunal found.