Anne Gibson

Anne Gibson is the Property editor of the NZ Herald

Ex-SFO lawyer's fall from grace

One of the brightest stars of New Zealand's legal profession has pleaded guilty to forging an email which could have undermined her boss at the Serious Fraud Office. Anne Gibson charts the remarkable rise and fall of Anita Killeen

Anita Killeen (in sunglasses) leaving Auckland District Court with supporters this morning after being discharged without conviction. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Anita Killeen (in sunglasses) leaving Auckland District Court with supporters this morning after being discharged without conviction. Photo / Sarah Ivey

When Anita Killeen went to Wellington a few weeks ago to get a medal, her lawyer had to ask for her bail conditions to be changed first.

The former high-flying barrister was one of a select few to be honoured with a Queen's Diamond Jubilee SPCA Volunteer Medal at the Government House ceremony, in recognition of her outstanding contribution to animal cruelty prevention.

Yet for more than a year she had been facing serious dishonesty charges over an altered email which implied her Serious Fraud Office boss Adam Feeley was unfairly managing her and other staff out of their jobs.

On Tuesday, via her QC Paul Davison, Killeen pleaded guilty in the Auckland District Court to forgery. However, Judge Mary Beth Sharp discharged her without conviction, describing her as an exceptional person in an exceptional case. The judge accepted Davison's submissions that Killeen had suffered a rare psychological reaction to a powerful fertility drug she was taking, which can affect 1 per cent of women with symptoms including irrationality, forgetfulness and obsessive behaviour.

The result outraged many Herald readers who emailed to express their view that this showed there was one law for ordinary people and another for the legal fraternity.

"They must be kidding," wrote R. M. Jefferis. "Good luck with that result for the TAB worker (or) beneficiary who falsifies a cheque."

Other readers expressed amazement that Killeen was allowed to sit by her lawyer throughout the sentencing - a decision which has sparked a complaint to the Law Society.

"This is most unfortunate as it creates the distinct impression she received special treatment simply because she is a lawyer," wrote Mark Copland.

The biggest negative reaction was reserved for the judge's acceptance that Killeen's actions could be explained as a reaction to a double dose of the fertility drug, especially as the manufacturer's information states that the dose can be tripled if necessary. Judge Sharp based her decision on evidence from Professor Ian Holdaway, head of endocrinology at Auckland Hospital, but many readers were not convinced.

"That is right up there with 'I am having my period'," wrote Luke Howard.

Killeen's plight has also caused shock and division among Auckland's tight legal fraternity, watching the terrible fall of the young alumna of the Harvard Business School, the London School of Economics and the Institute for Strategic Leadership (NZ).

"It's a bloody shame," says Charles Cadwallader, former SPCA national chief inspector and a former detective with 25 years experience.

Cadwallader would like to see Killeen back at the SPCA, where she served as a board member and formed a panel of top lawyers to prosecute animal cruelty cases at no charge.

"Anita has suffered quite enough harm and punishment. She must now be allowed the opportunity to get on with her life and career."


Anita Maria Killeen didn't come from privilege, legal circles or even academia. She was born, raised and educated in South Auckland, the daughter of a war veteran who was an accounts administrator and a nurse, yet she told the University of Auckland's Ingenio magazine she had always aimed high.

"When I went to law school, I definitely wanted to be a prosecutor. For most things I do, the motivations are to protect the vulnerable and to protect and serve my community."

After graduating in law in 1998, having pocketed the senior scholar prize for her year, she joined lawyers Phillips Fox as a commercial litigator, later working as an appeal court judges' clerk in the High Court at Auckland.

In 2003, around the time the finance boom was kicking off, she shifted to the Serious Fraud Office and did so well that by 2007, she was appointed its chief prosecutor - a role which raised some eyebrows because she was not an establishment figure.

Caroline Courtney of the Australian Women's Weekly expected a grey-haired dowager, but instead reported on a disarming woman "swinging a curtain of long dark hair, pencil-slim legs balanced on a pair of exquisite high-heeled designer sling-backs, bare legs in the middle of winter".

Killeen told the Weekly of her antique teddy bear collection and her love of animals but she also packed a punch: on the office wall, she displayed what she referred to as a rogues' gallery of people she had prosecuted and wins she was extremely proud of. It included Donna Awatere Huata, jailed for stealing from a trust for under-privileged children and Napier finance company owner Warren Pickett, locked up for defrauding locals of $20 million.

She soon became known as a passionate advocate for animals. It was on an annual Christmas visit, with husband Simon Vannini, to the SPCA's Auckland Animal Village, that Killeen began to wonder how she could help, so she picked up the phone to introduce herself to the organisation.

To her surprise, she discovered that in 2009, the SPCA financed all its animal cruelty prosecutions out of donations, so she had a brainwave to pull together the country's pre-eminent prosecutors, including Queen's Counsels, to bring animal offenders to justice.

Auckland SPCA executive director Bob Kerridge said that had been a huge success.

"We have about a dozen prosecutions a year roughly and half would be defended hearings requiring (legal) expertise. I guess if I were to add it up in terms of how much we would have had to pay, you'd probably be looking at a good $10,000 a year."

IN 2010 Anita Killeen's brilliant SFO career came to an abrupt end when the tough-talking Feeley took over and a round of redundancies swept the office. Killeen was one of his casualties. She moved on, joining the late John Haigh QC at City Chambers in Shortland St, specialising in crime and fraud, including civil and criminal litigation.

But on November 25, she was revealed to be facing three charges - later reduced to two - relating to computer equipment and forged documents sent to the media in an apparent smear campaign against SFO chief executive Adam Feeley.

Feeley was already facing negative publicity over the way he had celebrated the laying of criminal charges against Bridgecorp's now-jailed Rod Petricevic by drinking champagne belonging to Bridgecorp directors with his staff. The story was based on an email written by him and sent to staff saying it had been "a fantastic week" because of the prosecutions against Bridgecorp and other high-profile investigations, including one of Five Star Finance.

Feeley defended sending the email, saying: "I would struggle to think that any reasonable person would consider a $70 bottle of wine an outlandish recognition."

The State Services Commission reprimanded him, but he escaped serious censure for the actions.

Soon afterwards, the Herald and the National Business Review received a copy of another email allegedly written by Feeley. It suggested he wanted to convene a meeting to toast an inevitable implementation of his draft organisation review.

The implications were that the restructuring had been predetermined and was therefore unfair and prejudicial to the staff made redundant.

Feeley launched an investigation to find out how the email had been sent to the media.

In sentencing Killeen this week, Judge Sharp said an expert engaged by PwC said the forged email was likely to be a composite of emails. She said Killeen had forwarded a work email to her Hotmail account on May 28, 2010.

The judge said it certainly appeared that Killeen had sent the altered email to the media, although she noted that no actual evidence was found.

Feeley, now chief executive of the Queenstown Lakes District Council, was scathing in his criticism of both Killeen and the sentence, telling the Herald this week that "we have a legal system but not a justice system".

He said he was not impressed by the outcome but had long since moved on.

"The sun is shining in Queenstown and the unpleasantness that is Anita Killeen and her colleagues is well in the past for me."

Killeen initially offered to pay $10,000 as a contribution to the $50,000 computer search but on Tuesday withdrew that offer, saying via Davison she had been denied the ability to earn a income due to the charges.

Like many in the legal profession, Killeen has maintained close links with the media. A few weeks ago, the Herald was invited to her house to receive a bundle of documents on her background, her CV, articles written about her and a stack of testimonials from fellow lawyers, including former SFO prosecution colleague David Jones QC, Simpson Grierson head of employment law Philippa Muir - who acted for Killeen in her dispute with Feeley - and the late Greg King.

The testimonials painted a picture of a brilliant and driven young woman who consistently upheld the highest ethical principles. All expressed amazement that she was being charged with serious criminal offences and some argued she had already faced unfair publicity over the charges and would be further unfairly disadvantaged by any conviction.

Killeen said she wanted to tell her side of the story, which she felt had not emerged. She was also eager to get back into the profession as a barrister and had hopes of becoming a judge.

That could be an uphill battle, as she faces further scrutiny from the Law Society. A spokesman said the organisation did not always work on the same basis as the courts.

"The matter could be sent to a Lawyers' Standards Committee which would look at what the lawyer was charged with and the outcome. The committee would look at what is acceptable behaviour for lawyers and this might be different from what the court has considered."


Anita Killeen

The highs
• Youngest chief prosecutor for the Serious Fraud Office
• First woman to head SFO's litigation team
• Won a string of high-profile cases, including one against former MP Donna Awatere Huata
• Founded a panel of lawyers to prosecute SPCA animal cruelty cases at no charge
• Patron of Auckland Theatre Company, with her husband Simon Vannini

The lows
• Lost her SFO job through an organisational review
• Took strong fertility drugs to get pregnant, which may have affected her judgment
• Admitted forging emails which implied her boss Adam Feeley had a predetermined view of the staff shake-up
• Discharged without conviction
• Complaint made to the Law Society alleging she received special treatment in court because she was a lawyer

- NZ Herald

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