Five misconduct charges dropped against 'disgraceful' former Wellington barrister

A former Wellington barrister labelled "disgraceful and dishonourable" by a legal watchdog has had five charges of misconduct against him dismissed.
A former Wellington barrister labelled "disgraceful and dishonourable" by a legal watchdog has had five charges of misconduct against him dismissed.

A former Wellington barrister labelled "disgraceful and dishonourable" by a legal watchdog has had five charges of misconduct against him dismissed.

Christopher Skagen, who now lives in the United States, was found guilty of 12 charges of misconduct by the Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal in December 2014 and was subsequently struck off.

The charges stemmed from Skagen's conduct with two of his clients - dubbed Mr E and Mr W by the tribunal - and the Wellington Standards Committee of the New Zealand Law Society's resulting investigation.

Skagen was ordered to pay costs of $23,200 to the Law Society, and compensation of $4100 to Mr E and of $7700 to Mr W.

Tribunal chairman Judge Bernard Kendall said in the tribunal's decision they found his conduct to be "disgraceful and dishonourable".

In the High Court at Wellington this month, Justice Jillian Mallon said the tribunal was right to find Skagen's conduct dishonourable overall, but she quashed their findings regarding five charges.

These included accepting fees in advance from Mr E and Mr W, failing to pay monies received into trust accounts regarding both clients, and failing to produce records to an investigator during the subsequent investigation.

In her judgment, Mallon said Skagen had not been given an opportunity to make submissions on penalty.

"The tribunal ought to have adjourned once they had found the misconduct charges proven to give Mr Skagen an opportunity to make submissions on penalty."

But she said he still had opportunity to prevent evidence and submission, and upheld the Tribunal's other seven charges against Skagen.

These included accepting instruction directly from Mr E, failing to act in a timely or competent matter regarding both clients, failing to repay monies regarding both clients, charging a grossly excessive fee to Mr W and failing to permit an investigator to examine accounts during the investigation.

"Mr Skagen did not act in a competent and timely manner on the matters for E and W," Mallon said.

"He sought payment in advance and then refused to repay the money when he could not carry out the instructions on their behalf.

"His conduct was poor and fell well below that expected of a barrister."

- NZ Herald

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