A lawyer who grossly overcharged his former golfing buddy has been struck off the Law Society's register, and ordered to repay almost $500,000 in overcharged fees.
Eion Castles was found guilty of professional misconduct by the Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal last December.
He faced the disciplinary tribunal after he charged a client, with whom he played golf at Titirangi Golf Club, $1,030,000 - well above the $436,000 cost assessors estimated his work would have cost to help sort out legal problems created by the client's leaky Remuera home.
Mr Castles was not at today's penalty hearing.
The former client, whose name is suppressed by the tribunal, today told the hearing that as Mr Castles had declared himself bankrupt last Friday, he was unlikely to see any of the monies awarded.
While the former client continued " to live in penury" , Mr Castles would not endure any hardship. " ... Castles will still live in an upmarket suburb in a comfortable house owned by his wife. He will still enjoy rent from another house owned by his wife. He will still holiday on the beach at Waiheke in a house owned by his wife" , the man told the hearing
Mr Castles would also still play golf at the Titirangi Golf Club he was still a member of, the former client said.
"In another court it is likely that he would be found guilty of theft or some other crime deserving of a custodial sentence."
The tribunal's five-member panel ordered Mr Castles be struck off the Law Society's register and ordered him to pay $482,000 in overcharged fees and $107,000 in costs to the Law Society.
He was also ordered to pay a $5000 fee to the Law Society and $5000 in compensation to his former clients.
Tribunal chairman Judge Dale Clarkson said striking off a lawyer required a unanimous decision by all five tribunal members.
Mr Castles' absence from the penalty hearing was "unfortunate" she said.
Speaking to the former clients, Judge Clarkson said the tribunal understood they had suffered an "extremely difficult and negligence experience of the legal system".
"That is extraordinarily bad for the industry's reputation as a whole."
In a written decision released last December, the tribunal described Mr Castles' charges were "grossly excessive".
The tribunal found that in his first two weeks of work, Mr Castles charged his former golfing buddy more than he had been charged by his former solicitors, who were also working on legal action arising from his leaky home, over a period of two years.
Mr Castles was found guilty last December of five charges relating to gross overcharging, general conduct and serious failures in professional standards. Three other charges were dismissed.
New Zealand Law Society President Chris Moore said Mr Castles had breached two of the fundamental obligations which all lawyers were required to uphold.
"Lawyers provide expert professional services and advice and the resulting fees can be substantial. Mr Castles has let the legal profession down by his gross overcharging and also by failing to communicate clearly and openly with his clients,'' Mr Moore said.
"Anyone who engages a lawyer is entitled to expect that they will be accorded respect and courtesy. The tribunal has delivered a strong message about the standards which are expected of the legal profession.
"New Zealanders can be confident that the vast majority of our lawyers meet those standards and that the Law Society will continue to protect the users of legal services.''