Law expert concerned at run of cases in which athletes discharged without conviction.

A leading law professor is concerned over the number of sports people being discharged without conviction after a rugby player escaped punishment yesterday.

Blues player George Moala has been discharged without conviction over a bar brawl assault charge, despite a judge telling him he took his statements of remorse "with a large grain of salt".

The 24-year-old Moala left Auckland District Court yesterday without speaking to media after the decision.

It comes after he was found guilty in January of one charge of assault with intent to injure during a bar fight in December 2012.


Moala will play for the Blues against the Rebels in Melbourne following his discharge.

A statement from the Blues yesterday said: "With the judicial process complete, there remains an employment process to be concluded by the Blues and New Zealand Rugby over the next few weeks.

"Meantime, George will be available for selection and continue to receive professional support in his personal development."

University of Auckland law professor Bill Hodge said he was "concerned" to see a run of cases where athletes were discharged without conviction, on the basis it would affect their employment and their ability to travel or compete in international competitions.

"I'm thinking that judges should look a bit more critically at that issue ... because it's something the defence counsel will, of course, automatically raise, and it is not available if you are a plumber, you're working on a building site, you're a blue-collared worker, or a shop assistant.

"It's just a bit concerning that it seems to be setting up a two-tier system of justice, where one class of people get one form of justice, and a different class of people get a different form.

"Having been a lower court judge myself it does seem that judges should be a little more analytical, critical, or shall I say sceptical, when they get those sorts of submissions."

Moala sat in the dock yesterday, dressed in a blue shirt and navy tie, as lawyer Paul Wicks, QC, said his client was remorseful and had offered to take part in a restorative justice session with his victim, Clifford Matoka, who had declined.

But Judge Rob Ronayne said he took that expression of remorse "with a large grain of salt, as you told the probation officer that you maintained your not guilty stance".

But despite this assertion, Judge Ronayne agreed that a conviction would be disproportionate to the offence.

The judge said his decision was not influenced by Moala being a celebrity sportsman, but by the impact it would have on his career and ability to look after his wife and 4-year-old daughter.

Moala did not have tertiary qualifications or experience in any other trade or career that he could fall back on, and would be unlikely to secure another job with a similar level of remuneration and career prospects, he said.

"Loss of career would be devastating for you and your family."

He warned: "Be mindful of that in the future, Mr Moala."

A number of "glowing" references had been submitted in favour of Moala, the judge said, including one from Blues head coach Sir John Kirwan, who described his player as "a humble young man who has matured a lot over the past couple of years" since the brawl, and someone who had "a very bright rugby career ahead" of him.

The judge was also satisfied by assurances that the rugby union was taking the matter seriously, and would hold its own disciplinary hearing after the sentencing decision.

The Crown pushed for a conviction for the charge - which holds a maximum penalty of three years in prison - saying it should not be treated differently to any other case.

However, Judge Ronayne ordered Moala be discharged without conviction, and pay $2500 in emotional harm reparation to Mr Matoka.