Terrorist Brenton Tarrant's first lawyer after his arrest for the heinous March 15 attacks has been ordered to pay $13,000 for discussing the case with the media.
The New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal this week censured Christchurch-based lawyer Richard Peters and ordered him to pay costs of $13,000.
It decided not to suspend him for what the tribunal deemed a "reckless disregard" for the privileged conversations between a client and lawyer, the New Zealand Law Society said.
Peters was the first lawyer to represent Tarrant and did so as the duty solicitor.
He spoke to the gunman by phone after his arrest and appeared for the mass killer at the first appearance in the Christchurch District Court on March 16, 2019.
Following the hearing, Peters then spoke to the media, including with an Otago Daily Times reporter. He also spoke with Radio NZ, which aired on March 19, and gave an interview with the Herald.
Peters told the Herald that Tarrant "seemed quite clear and lucid".
"He didn't appear to me to be facing any challenges or mental impairment, other than holding fairly extreme views," Peter said, having briefly met him.
Peters then speculated on how the unprecedented case might play out.
"I suspect that he won't shy away from publicity, and that will probably be the way he runs the trial. The job of the trial judge will be to deal with that," he told the Herald.
"But it's not a place for any views to be put forward. It's simply there to determine innocence or guilt. The court is not going to be very sympathetic to him if he wants to use the trial to express his own views."
The lawyer also told the Herald he did not have any issues representing Tarrant.
"It's not an everyday event ... It's difficult in this case to take a dispassionate view, but you've got to put that to one side and say, 'Right, let's simply process things'.
"My job was simply to appear in court and advise him of his rights and procedure."
Peters comments to the media were initially the subject of a liability decision by the tribunal in December last year, which found him guilty of misconduct, but an order was made to suppress its publication until the conclusion of Tarrant's case.
The lawyer at first did not consider he had breached any rules, but later accepted his error. He argued his comments amounted to unsatisfactory conduct, rather than misconduct.
In its penalty decision from Tuesday, the tribunal said duty lawyers must "protect and hold in strict confidence all information concerning a client".
The tribunal said Peters' lapse of judgment was "more in the nature of a 'reckless disregard' of the rules, and accordingly misconduct, rather than a simple breach or lapse of professionalism".
"In doing so he may have damaged the confidence of clients in lawyers generally and therefore has put at risk the reputation of the profession in the eyes of the public," the decision reads.
"Members of the public must be able to speak with their lawyers with complete confidence and trust that their communications and presentation will remain private. Lawyers must be able to hold to their obligations of confidentiality even in stressful and difficult circumstances."
After Peters briefly acted for the killer, Tarrant then indicated he would defend and represent himself. Ultimately, however, the task was taken on by well-known Auckland barristers Shane Tait and Jonathan Hudson.
The pair represented Tarrant, who initially pleaded not guilty, through most of the hearings, including for his change of pleas in March this year.
He admitted 51 charges of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder, and one of engaging in a terrorist act, the first such charge laid under the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002.
The 30-year-old Australian national, however, sacked both Tait and Hudson in July and announced his intentions to represent himself again ahead of his sentencing in the High Court at Christchurch.
After being dumped as counsel, Hudson told the Herald: "We are not disappointed by Mr Tarrant's decision. There has been no conflict or relationship breakdown."
The legal bill for the gunman's lawyers cost the taxpayer some $200,000, the Herald revealed earlier this year.
Tarrant was sentenced in August to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole by Justice Cameron Mander.
It is the first time in New Zealand's history the sentence has been imposed.