An Auckland lawyer who betrayed his client by transferring their property into his name before trying to evict them has been struck-off, while another who used $265,000 of client funds to buy a personal property has also been given his marching orders.
This month suspended lawyer Boon Gunn Hong was removed from the roll of barristers and solicitors following a decision, released publicly yesterday, by the Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal.
In a separate case, the tribunal also recently struck off Peter Francis Aitken for the misappropriation of client funds, which included using $265,000 to buy property, and the ongoing misuse and dishonest mismanagement of the client's trust account.
Hong, who has a chequered disciplinary history dating back to the 1990s, had already been suspended before the strike-off order came into effect at the start of June.
It followed misconduct findings relating to a long-running dispute over his dealings with two clients, Mr K and Ms D, and a trust over the purchase of a property in September 2005.
The trust had entered into an agreement to buy the property but was unable to because of adverse caveats before, in mid-2006, Hong proposed a solution which involved his personal involvement with a substantial financial input, the tribunal's decision reads.
Mr K described the proposal as a joint venture, which included the trust paying a deposit of $40,000 on the property, and later $5000 to be held by Hong if needed for an increased deposit. Hong paid the balance of $590,000 to complete settlement in August 2006.
But transfer of the title did not take place until July 2008, with Hong also transferring the title into the joint names of a trustee and himself at a time when he was no longer a trustee of the trust.
A week later he transferred the title into the sole ownership of a company, BGH Trusteeship Limited, under his exclusive control. Eventually Hong would transfer the title to himself personally.
He still remains the sole legal owner of the property, the decision reads.
Hong's client had no idea what his lawyer was doing, but at the March tribunal hearing Hong agreed the transfer was intended to give him the unrestrained power to sell the property if he wanted.
He also treated Mr K as a tenant, whom he unsuccessfully sought to have evicted from the home in 2014. Hong continues to deny any responsibility to his clients and their dispute with him is entrenched and unresolved to this day, the decision reads.
When arguing for the Hong to be struck-off, Auckland Standards Committee counsel Paul Collins said Hong had betrayed his clients under the guise of a benevolent financial rescue package.
"In doing so, he not only failed in his obligation to protect their interests but in fact caused harm to their interests," he submitted.
Collins argued the case was a textbook example of the reason for the existence of rules prohibiting lawyers' personal financial dealings with their clients, and the rules intended to ensure the essential quality of independence in the lawyer and client relationship.
"It was difficult to envisage a more compromising situation involving a lawyer entering into a personal transaction with clients where he had an eye to personal profit," Collins submitted, which was endorsed by the tribunal.
It was further argued Hong displayed a "lack of insight and remorse" and continues to pose a risk to his clients and to the public. His past disciplinary history was also poor and "characterised by a marked decline in his observance of professional standards in the last decade".
Since 1997, Hong, who had a more than 30-year legal career, has been disciplined on nine further occasions, seven of which have been adverse findings made since January 2016.
Hong told the tribunal his disciplinary history was not relevant and said he adhered to a higher conscience and, not having breached that, had no reason for remorse.
Along with striking off Hong, the tribunal also ordered him to pay costs to the Law Society of $29,450, costs to the tribunal of $6923, and $8000 in compensation to Mr K.
"We have determined that Mr K should be compensated for the emotional harm he has suffered," the tribunal's decision reads. "The relevant factors in that consideration have been the number of years over which this matter has spanned, and the stress caused to him by the unsuccessful efforts that Mr Hong took to evict him from the property. We have been told that Ms D has not sought compensation even though she has been made aware of her right to do so."
However, Hong is appealing the penalties imposed against him, according to the Ministry of Justice's website.
In Aitken's case, the $265,000 of client funds taken had not been repaid as of the April 29.
When confronted by the inspectors in November 2019, Aitken acknowledged his actions and said to was "tantamount to fraud".
Along with being struck-off he was ordered to pay costs to the Auckland Standards Committee of $16,350 and reimburse the tribunal costs of $2492.