A lawyer who misled a court during a divorce dispute with her ex-husband over a property has been found guilty of conduct unbecoming a member of the legal profession.
The woman was part-way through confessing her conduct when a colleague reported her to the New Zealand Law Society for the incident that happened almost 20 years ago.
Following the divorce from her husband, the lawyer organised for her house to be sold to a separate trust so he couldn't lay claim to it.
She then arranged to have that trust sell her back the property at the same price she'd purchased it for.
However, she told a Family Court in 2004 through an affidavit that she had no interest in the sale of the property except in her capacity as a tenant of it.
A Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal decision released this week said that while the woman's claim was "strictly accurate", it did not provide the whole picture or properly describe the complicated arrangement of sale and buy-back.
The affidavit did not refer to her beneficial interest in the property as a beneficiary of another trust which had purchased it in her name.
"She says that she does not know what she was thinking at the time," the decision states.
"She has poor recall of the time in question, not just because of how long ago this occurred, but because of the psychological state she was in."
The lawyer had only been married to the man for two years when they split and he agreed to move out of the home they shared.
However, he was reneging on that agreement and was refusing to leave as well as making other "deeply concerning threats".
A friend of the lawyer's offered to purchase the property in his company's name and then resell it to her so her ex-husband couldn't register a notice of claim.
They proceeded with the purchase and eventually arranged for the police to remove the husband from the property in the days following settlement.
It was after this that she told the Family Court she had sold the property to her friend's company and had been occupying it as a tenant for several months.
She went on to state "... in any event, the tenancy of this property is out of my hands as I have no legal interest in it save for my current short-term occupancy as a tenant which is soon to end ..."
At the same time, she filed an affidavit of assets and liabilities that did not refer to her beneficial interest in the property nor to the fact she was a beneficiary of the trust that had acquired it.
In its decision, the tribunal found that the lawyer's conduct was out of character for a practitioner who otherwise set herself high standards.
"She has accepted that her conduct was wrong and 'unbecoming' of the standards expected of the profession.
"She states that she is 'appalled' in hindsight and expresses considerable embarrassment and regret," the tribunal said.
It took into account the amount of time that had passed since the incident occurred, her long service to the profession and to her community, where she serves on several charitable trust boards.
The tribunal found her guilty of conduct unbecoming and fined her $5000.