'Dishonourable' lawyer Christopher Skagen's application for recall dismissed

Christopher Skagen had been in trouble for inadequate practice before. PHOTO/Nick Reed
Christopher Skagen had been in trouble for inadequate practice before. PHOTO/Nick Reed

A "disgraceful and dishonourable" former Wellington barrister has had his application for recall dismissed after he was ordered to pay more than $30,000 in costs and compensation.

Christopher Skagen was found guilty of 11 charges of misconduct by the Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal in December 2014 and was subsequently struck off.

High Court Justice Jillian Mallon allowed Skagen's appeal to five of the 11 charges. Skagen then applied for recall of Justice Mallon's judgment. She found the recall to be without merit and dismissed the application in a decision released last week.

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.

The charges included accepting fees in advance without placing them into a trust account, failing to act in a timely or competent manner and failing to permit an investigator to examine his practice accounts.

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

"We agree with counsel's submission that it borders on cynical and intentional dishonesty that Mr Skagen, having concluded his conduct in respect to Mr E, went on to behave in a similar manner towards Mr W." Kendall described Skagen's conduct as "sustained, cynical and dishonest".

The tribunal also noted Skagen's arrogance in his response to the investigation.

"We have no confidence that he will not behave in a similar manner in the future," Judge Kendall said. "The public is entitled to protection from him."

Skagen was found guilty of similar charges by the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of the State of Oregon, which suspended him from practising law for 18 months. He was found to have been inadequately handling and tracking client deposits and cheques on around 22 occasions.

In his decision, Judge Kendall said the tribunal found the number, nature and gravity of the charges and the relevant history of similar offending, together with Skagen's lack of any insight into his behaviour, led them to the conclusion that he was not a fit and proper person to be practising law.

"We therefore unanimously order that he be struck off the Roll of Barristers and Solicitors of New Zealand effective immediately."

He has now been ordered to pay costs of $23,200 to the Law Society, and compensation of $4100 to Mr E and of $7700 to Mr W.

Skagen's charges
Accepting instructions directly
Accepting fees in advance
Failure to pay monies received into a trust account
Failing to act in a timely or competent manner
Failing to repay monies
Accepting a fee in advance
Failure to pay money received into a trust account
Failing to act in a timely or competent manner
Failing to repay monies, and in the alternative
Failing to permit an investigator to examine accounts
Failing to produce records to an investigator

- NZ Herald

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