Former Dunedin lawyer struck off for dishonesty

A finding that a former Dunedin lawyer dishonestly used trust money was "very serious'', the New Zealand Law Society said yesterday.

The former lawyer, Richard James Woodhouse, had now ``lost his ticket'', society executive director Christine Grice said yesterday.

Mr Woodhouse was struck off the roll of barristers and solicitors after a New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers disciplinary tribunal hearing last week.

He did not attend the disciplinary hearing but admitted a charge of misconduct relating to action he took before ceasing practice in 2009.

As well as not attending last Thursday's hearing, Mr Woodhouse offered ``no explanation at all'' for his behaviour, Ms Grice said.

``The one thing to be said in his favour is he at least repaid the money. That doesn't always happen.''

The misconduct centred on Mr Woodhouse's failure to return funds, amounting to $13,275 in 2006, to an overseas client on whose behalf the funds were being held in his trust account.

By not handing back the money, he breached the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act (Trust Account) Regulations 2008.

The prosecuting lawyers standards committee said Mr Woodhouse had misappropriated the money and repaid it only when his former client complained about it.

The client contacted the New Zealand Law Society in 2015 and, in total, Mr Woodhouse repaid $17,000, including interest.

Asked why the matter had not been dealt with until now, Ms Grice said the law society did not know about it until two years ago when the client reported it. But the complaint was immediately followed up and Mr Woodhouse was contacted.

``From then, it was only a few months until the money owed, and the interest, had been repaid.''

Ms Grice said the honesty and trustworthiness of lawyers was something in which the public should be able to have complete faith.

``There is no place in the profession for dishonesty,'' she said.

Mr Woodhouse's behaviour was not ``reflective of the honesty and ethical behaviour'' to which the vast majority of lawyers were committed.

In addition to striking Mr Woodhouse off the roll, the tribunal ordered him to pay the law society costs of $8500.

Attempts to contact Mr Woodhouse for comment were unsuccessful.


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