Hastings lawyer David John Porteous yesterday admitted charges of stealing almost $80,000 from clients during the latter years of a three-decade legal career in Hawke's Bay.
Appearing before Judge Bridget Mackintosh in the Hastings District Court, 66-year-old Porteous pleaded guilty to two representative charges of theft by a person in a special relationship and was remanded on bail for sentence in Napier District Court on April 7.
The charges carry penalties of up to seven years' jail, and the judge ordered a pre-sentence report and supported a call by defence counsel Matthew Phelps for exploration for options for restorative justice, which would normally involve the offender meeting with those from whom he had stolen.
But one victim, Hastings man Neville Lush, having been in court for the satisfaction of seeing his former adviser's admission, even if was through counsel Mr Phelps, doubts the practical possibilities of restorative justice, saying he and wife Morag had recovered about $61,000, but still expect to be out of pocket by an unknown sum around $40,000.
"We just don't know how much," he said, "but we'll never get it back."
Porteous had been their lawyer for as long as 30 years, and the couple placed their money with the firm and established a family trust after Mr Lush had had to sell a business following major heart surgery.
In 2014, he went to the lawyer concerned that statements had not been received when requested, and became alarmed when he saw figures that showed interest was less than expected.
Porteous closed his chambers and handed in his practising certificate amid the start of the investigation almost two-and-a-half years ago.
He was soon afterwards struck off the roll of barristers and solicitors over unrelated matters, for which the Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal ordered he repay $34,455 said to have been overcharged against two other clients.
At the time of closing the firm he told Hawke's Bay Today: "I don't believe there are any irregularities in the trust accounts, and any issues that are found I'll deal with."
In November police laid six charges of theft and one of dishonestly using client trust funds, involving Lush funds of $49,200 misused between 2009 and 2011, and $29,232 from another client.
Yesterday the charges were withdrawn by police through prosecutor Sergeant Amber Thompson and replaced by the amended charges.