A lawyer convicted of hiring underage sex workers also charged a bankrupt and dyslexic client $1000 an hour for legal services.
Quentin Haines was convicted in 2018 for soliciting the services of underage sex workers who were just 14 and 17 at the time. The legal age for prostitution in New Zealand is 18.
Now he faces being struck off for conduct toward three clients he overcharged, borrowed money from or had pay him directly into his personal account.
In April last year, the Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal found Haines guilty of seven charges of misconduct and two of unsatisfactory conduct relating to the three clients.
Haines appealed that finding to the High Court but six of the charges were upheld by the judge.
Today, he reappeared before the tribunal facing penalties for those charges.
All three clients have name suppression. Haines met the first, “Mr M”, at bankruptcy court and began doing pro bono work for him in late 2015.
Mr M continued as a client for Haines as he started his own firm in 2017.
Haines then sent him a letter of engagement which specified his hourly rate was $1000 and he was spending about 20 hours per week working on Mr M’s various litigation matters.
In August 2018 Haines contacted his client and said he’d racked up almost 4000 hours worth of legal fees in two years and his financial position was untenable. Mr M was facing bankruptcy at the time.
They met and agreed that invoices would be issued for parts of the legal work Haines had carried out before he sent the $1 million invoice.
The tribunal said Haines charged such an excessive fee because he knew it would give him a higher voting power when it came to Mr M’s creditors’ compromises and he misled the creditors into believing the debt was larger than it was to convince them to settle for less than they were owed.
It considered a $500 hourly rate was a significant inflation of a “fair and reasonable” charge-out rate for a lawyer at Haines’ level, which should have been $375 per hour given his inexperience and that he was working in a small, rural firm in Ōtaki.
In the High Court decision, Justice Kiri Tahana referred to a transcript of a conversation between Haines and his client, who were discussing the invoice, where Haines talked about the need to “jig the numbers” to ensure he secured a majority in the voting rights for Mr M’s compromises.
Haines also borrowed $575,000 from finance companies, while using Mr M as his guarantor, which he couldn’t repay.
He also advised Mr M on bankruptcy proceedings despite what the tribunal considered a clear conflict of interest.
The same day he sent the $1 million bill he ended his legal practice while facing charges of hiring underage prostitutes whom he’d met through the “sugar daddy” website Seeking Arrangements.
His defence lawyer for that case, Alwyn O’Connor, was struck off by the tribunal earlier this year for taking about $170,000 from his imprisoned client’s bank account without permission.
The second client, Mr R, engaged Haines to act for him in a property dispute and agreed on a $50,000 fee of which half would be paid upfront.
Justice Tahana allowed Haines to appeal on charges of failing to notify Mr R about his fees in that he detailed them in a letter to his client but simply did not follow up.
The last client, known as Mr C, hired Haines to help annul his bankruptcy.
However, while $90,000 of his fee was charged to the firm Haines was working for at the time, the lawyer directed $160,000 into his personal bank account. He also failed to pay back $55,000 he borrowed from Mr C.
“There is no reason for an employed solicitor to be receiving funds directly into his own bank account,” Justice Tahana said in her judgment.
In his defence, Haines said his employer agreed to the arrangement.
Haines’ counsel, Colin Carruthers, KC, told the tribunal his client’s offending happened at a time of significant stress during a marriage breakdown.
“He accepts that he has exhibited poor judgment at a personally dark time for him.”
Carruthers opposed striking-off and said Haines wished to resume practice.
Carruthers asked that any suspension be backdated to 2018 on the basis that Haines had been without a practising certificate since then and had had five years to reflect on his errors, but that striking him off went too far.
In regards to Haines’ convictions, Carruthers said that was only a suspension offence and his client had already been punished.
“There’s a recognition that he has been punished so he has already paid, on a personal level, a very high price,” he said.
Carruthers argued Haines’ conduct with the three clients wasn’t dishonest.
“Stealing a loaf of bread for your child may be a mitigating factor for theft but it’s still a dishonesty offence,” tribunal chairman Dale Clarkson said.
The counsel for the Law Society’s standards committee prosecuting Haines at the tribunal, Richard Moon, said Haines’ conduct was extremely serious and that he’d breached his fundamental obligations to his clients in misusing their funds and putting his financial interests above theirs.
“The dishonest use of funds is a gross breach of trust and generally on its own will lead to strike-off,” he said.
Moon also referenced Haines’ convictions for soliciting the services of underage sex workers and said the law was in place to protect young people from sexual exploitation.
“To be convicted of those crimes as a practising solicitor is to fall significantly below the standards expected.”
Moon said striking off Haines was the only penalty that fitted his conduct and he should pay $96,000 toward the standards committee’s legal costs.
The tribunal reserved its decision.
Jeremy Wilkinson is an Open Justice reporter based in Manawatū covering courts and justice issues with an interest in tribunals. He has been a journalist for nearly a decade and has worked for NZME since 2022.