A former lawyer who pocketed a large cash payment has been suspended from practising for three years and ordered to pay more than $10,000 in costs.
According to a decision released by the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal this month, the Waikato woman was representing a couple in a "somewhat difficult transaction" mid last year.
As they were wrapping up the arrangement, which came to approximately $4000 of recorded time, the client asked what could be done for cash.
The former lawyer offered a cash fee of $2500, even though, as she acknowledged in the disciplinary hearing, the firm would not have approved it.
When the client returned, she invoiced him for $500 and pocketed the rest for herself.
In the tribunal findings the woman was described as "being at a very low ebb and highly stressed" at the time and although she regretted her actions "seemed unable to put it right".
Her then employer noted her error some four to five days later and confronted her, upon which she acknowledged what she'd done, returned the money, resigned and apologised.
Not long after the Waikato woman handed in her practising certificate and has not sought to practice law since.
In delivering its judgement the tribunal acknowledged her previously unblemished record of 15 years and the fact she'd accepted responsibility for her actions.
It also took note of the fact she'd removed herself from the profession and sought appropriate medical support.
Nevertheless the tribunal decided it appropriate to impose a censure and pay costs to the Waikato Bay of Plenty Standards Committee of $6008.73 and $5820 against the New Zealand Law Society.
In addition to the imposed penalties, the tribunal has imposed a censure as a reminder to the former lawyer and the rest of the legal professional, that such actions "cannot go without adverse comment".
The woman's counsel had sought for only 20 per cent of the costs to be repaid -- but this application was rejected on the basis it was already a "modest" cost that "reflects the benefit of that [her] co-operation already".
The tribunal added since she was working in fulltime employment the woman was therefore in a position to "bear the cost of this prosecution, brought by her profession because of her actions".
It also rejected her application for final name suppression, but granted a limited suppression order relation to the practitioner's former employer's name, her current employer's name and company's name and the practitioner's personal and medical and financial details.
"Full exposure of the disciplinary process is considered to enhance public confidence in the profession and to protect members of the public".
The tribunal also said the need for openness was even more important where the disciplinary matter reflects some level of dishonesty.
Her name was granted interim name suppression until the appeal period lapsed.