The report on an incident which saw Auckland barrister John Eichelbaum fined $10,000 and censured by the Law Standards Committee has been criticised by a sexual harassment advocate.

Eichelbaum's actions were found to be at the "high end of the unsatisfactory conduct spectrum" after he asked a female lawyer, who was acting as opposing counsel in a property dispute, to bend over through a window before he would let her and a consultant visit the site.

The report stated Eichelbaum refused the woman and her building consultant entry on a site visit and made inappropriate comments.

At a second visit, Eichelbaum would only allow the lawyer and the consultant to enter the site once she had agreed to bend over through a window down to the skirting board level to sign a piece of wood.


She told the committee she had "reluctantly" agreed to do so, so as not to waste time and money. However she said it had been clear she was not dressed appropriately and Eichelbaum had laughed after she signed the wood.

She also referred to instances of bullying when Eichelbaum would suggest she had been involved in a fraud or crime.

But, former lawyer Olivia Wensley, who has spoken out about her experience of sexual harassment in law firms, said she was disappointed with the punishment and believed the final report had been "sanitised".

Wensley, who had spoken to the woman about her complaint, said there was more to the story, which took place over a long period of time.

"It was a lot more than that over a long period of time - a lot of bullying correspondence and threats. He accuses her of corruption."

Wensley said the case highlighted the very light punitive measures imposed when someone was found guilty of "unsatisfactory conduct" within the industry.

"In this situation the woman was only able to complain because it was not a case of it being her employer. It's unreasonable to expect young women to make complaints about men that they work for.

"When they do get brave and speak out, it's just a slap on the wrist. A barrister makes about $1000 an hour."

She described Eichelbaum's behaviour as appalling and said it was not just the lawyer who complained.

The client the woman was working for also laid a complaint against Eichelbaum, leading to him being again censured and fined $10,000 for "threatening, bullying, insulting and intimidating a person he pursued court action against".

"Mr Eichelbaum by his conduct caused Ms C a great deal of stress. Mr Eichelbaum's conduct towards Ms C was not only an isolated incident but persistently occurred over a long period of time (approximately five years)," the Law Standards Committee said.

The committee stated Eichelbaum threatened the woman with false court proceedings, intruded on her privacy to serve documents on her and said in correspondence she should be "ashamed of yourself for attempting to sneak out of your obligations in this way".

Eichelbaum was also previously censured for misconduct and unsatisfactory conduct.

Wensley said stronger consequences were needed in such cases because fines of up to $15,000, the maximum the Law Standards Committee could impose, and censures were not enough of a deterrent.

"It's a joke. These men, a lot of them earn seven figures. They can earn four times that [fine] in a week. The whole process is broken."

New Zealand Law Society executive director Mary Ollivier said the key points of any complaint were identified by the committee with input from both parties but neither party would have any influence over the summary of a decision prepared for publication.

She said the rules that governed the conduct of lawyers set the minimum standards that were expected of them and lawyers could face two levels of disciplinary findings when they broke them – unsatisfactory conduct or misconduct.

This is the latest in a string of allegations of sexual harassment and bullying within New Zealand's legal profession and the Law Society today announced it had set up a new 0800 phone line to allow people to discuss harassment in the industry.

Callers would be able to discuss their experiences and get information on the support available or how to can lodge a complaint.

The phone line, called Law Care, would go live on Tuesday and be staffed by five operators between 9am and 7.30pm Monday to Thursday and 9am to 5pm on Friday.

Law Care was the latest in a string of initiatives developed by the Law Society to address serious allegations of harassment and bullying occurring in the wider legal community.

A new online facility for lawyers to submit confidential reports of harassment and other unacceptable behaviour to the Law Society was also being launched at the same time.

This follows the announcement that a working group chaired by Dame Silvia Cartwright had been set up to investigate the practices and processes around reporting of workplace harassment in the profession.