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Lawyer’s comments to Family Court judge earn him suspension

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The lawyer became frustrated with the Family Court process and accused the judge, court staff and opposing counsel of bias and sexism. Photo / 123rf

A lawyer who was fighting for custody of his own children and was frustrated with the process called a judge and opposing counsel “ignorant women” and labelled the Family Court a “vagina court”.

Those comments were just some of the accusations made in a 10-page memorandum which also accused his wife’s lawyers of being “feminist staff who had a bone to pick with men” and have now earned him a six-month suspension from practising as a lawyer.

The man, who can’t be named due to automatic suppression orders from the Family Court, was representing himself in a personal matter and was a practising employment lawyer at the time.

Because of this his conduct was referred to the Law Society, which investigated the incident and referred it on to the Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal. The tribunal this year found the man guilty of personal misconduct, labelling his comments “ugly and discriminatory”.

“The sheer quantity and breadth of the outrageous and insulting communications, even though confined to the context of private Family Court proceedings, lead us to the view that this is very serious misconduct,” their finding read.

Today, that same tribunal opted to suspend the lawyer’s practising certificate for six months and order him to pay $27,000 in legal costs.

While the tribunal didn’t consider the man a risk to the public they did find he posed a risk to the reputation of the legal profession if it allowed him to continue practising.

The tribunal also noted that the man, known as Mr U in their ruling, lacked insight into what he’d done and had accused the Law Society of “attacking him”.

“Mr U has not demonstrated that he really grasps how damaging of the institution and of his profession such comments were,” the tribunal said.

“The tribunal was unanimous in its view that he is currently not fit to practice, although remains optimistic that with further time and guidance, he will be so.”

At a hearing into his conduct last November, the man attempted to provide some context for lashing out at the court by explaining that he’d become frustrated with the process.

He said the court was heavily biased against him in a range of ways and he’d been effectively silenced in an emotionally charged proceeding where he was battling for custody of his children.

“My frustrations were absolutely uncontainable to me at the time … I was extremely frustrated,” he told the tribunal last year.

“I would describe it as a father at his wits’ end.”

The memorandum he filed claimed the judge presiding over his custody battle judge had “incorrectly [interpreted] High Court precedent that a C-grade first-year law student would not have got wrong”.

He then said the judge and his ex-wife’s counsel had made mistakes that “an ignorant woman would make” and that the Family Court in general operated on a “vagina = win, penis = lose” basis.

However, his comments weren’t limited to the one memorandum, and in an email sent to the firm representing his wife, he said they were focused on destroying his life, were milking the legal aid system and “had a bone to pick with men”.

He then filed another memorandum to the Family Court where he denigrated that firm and the police. A different judge who was presiding over the case on that day suggested he desist from filing any further memoranda to the court.

The man’s primary argument was that he was acting purely in a personal capacity rather than a professional one and his conduct occurred behind closed doors and out of the eye of the public.

However, the Standards Committee prosecuting him on behalf of the Law Society said he was still a practising lawyer at the time so his behaviour amounted to at least personal misconduct.

While the man is no longer a practising lawyer, if he wants to return to the profession he must complete a training course on professional conduct and inform the Law Society when he has completed it.

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.

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