A client of an Auckland lawyer jailed for stealing almost $300,000 felt intimidated into signing a false loan document, the Auckland District Court heard yesterday.
Former Remuera lawyer Richard Kristian Henry Holland was sentenced to 2 years 6 months' jail. The now struck-off lawyer in June admitted three charges of theft by a person in a special relationship.
Holland's defence counsel Fletcher Pilditch said yesterday the former solicitor had stolen money from three of his clients and put the quantum of the offending at "just shy" of $300,000.
"He does not shirk in any way from the utter and gross abuse of trust that represents," Pilditch told Judge David Sharp.
Pilditch said Holland, in his 50s, felt "enduring regret and shame" that he had hurt his former clients, family, friends and colleagues and had "damaged his profession".
"The weight he bears from that shame is a grim and daily reality for him," Pilditch said.
Pilditch referred to a statement by a victim Holland stole $200,000 from. During a meeting when Holland told her the money was gone, the client felt intimidated into signing a false loan document.
Holland promised to repay the money and said she could either sign the document or go to the police, Pilditch said when reading from the statement.
The defence lawyer told the court that the risk of Holland reoffending was low and that he had a good prospect of rehabilitation. Once the offending was detected, Pilditch said Holland had made a "full and frank" confession and admitted his guilt at the earliest opportunity.
Holland was not in a position to make reparation.
Pilditch said that home detention was appropriate for his client, depending if the judge's final sentence reached the relevant threshold for this to be an option.
Judge Sharp said he accepted the offending happened in circumstances of "genuine financial need".
Holland didn't take the funds to finance a luxurious lifestyle or for purposes of greed, Judge Sharp said.
But the judge said an experienced solicitor who steals funds could not suggest financial naivety.
While Holland may have been owed some money for fees, what he took "grossly exceeded" what he could be entitled to, Judge Sharp said.
Although the offending was not hugely sophisticated , the judge said that it wasn't found out during a Law Society audit, which only discovered poor record keeping.
He described Holland's actions as a "gross abuse of a high degree of trust" that called for a deterrent.
Judge Sharp sentenced Holland to two and a half years' jail which meant home detention could not be considered.