Thursday, April 21, 2005

It Never Rains But It Pours.

Spare a thought for the Canterbury District Law Society. No sooner does the fall out from the disgrace of Graham Capill subside than it has to deal with another. Name suppression was today lifted on Christchurch lawyer Leuatea Peseta Iosefa. He'd been seeking to overturn an assault conviction imposed on him in the Christchurch District Court last month. The conviction brought with it a sentence of 150 hours community work and $2,000 worth of reparations which Iosefa had voluntarily offered.

The background to this whole messy business is as follows. In September last year Iosefa was confronted at his home by a debt collector who'd come to repossess a car on which a cheque payment had bounced. The debt collector had no written documentation and Iosefa had not been told by either his bank or the finance company that his cheque had been dishonored. As far as he knew the payment had been made and everything had been taken care of. It'd be fair to say a visit from a debt collector was the last thing he had expected. One thing led to another, tempers got frayed, and it ended up with Iosefa punching the debt collector in the face. According to evidence presented at the District Court hearing the blow splintered the man's eye socket and required surgery, however the only medical records presented are those of Christchurch Hospital's Emergency Department who treated the debt collector immediately after the fracas.

The police were then involved and Iosefa almost ended up getting diversion. Police withdrew it following a request from the complainant and proceedings then headed to the District Court. Iosefa pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity and sought to be discharged without conviction. He cited his previous clean record, similar cases involving legal professionals, and his record of charity and community work to support his case. Judge Gary MacAskill was having none of it ruling that someone of Iosefa's position should have known better, he also told him revealing the debt collectors criminal history (which has been suppressed .... shame really as it's a doozy) did his case no favours. The end result was the conviction stood and Iosefa was saddled with 150 hours of community work. With Iosefa clearly intending an appeal name suppression was granted.

This week saw the appeal dealt with by Justice Randerson in the High Court. Iosefa was represented by Nigel Hampton QC who argued the consequences of the conviction far outweighed the gravity of the offence. He further alleged Judge MacAskill had exhibited a jaundiced view towards his client, hadn't paid appropriate attention to the mitigating factors, and had given undue weight to a letter written by the victim presented to the District Court on the day of the sentencing. Nigel Hampton said the impact of a conviction and lifting of name suppression could adversely affect Iosefa's practice, prevent him from practicing in the Pacific, and cost him his Samoan clientele. He asked if his client was being treated more sternly simply because of the fact that he was a lawyer.

This afternoon Justice Randerson confirmed the District Court Judge's ruling saying the conviction should stand and endorsed the District Court Judge's comments that Iosefa should have known better and shouldn't have done what he did.

On a personal note, Iosefa is a well respected lawyer and, from what I have observed, a genuinely nice bloke. It's a pity he got into such a situation where he lost his temper and his rag. It proves he's only human like the rest of us. However I believe Justice Randerson's decision is the right one. Lawyers should be held to account like the rest of us. They know the law so have even less excuse for breaking it. While it's unfortunate Iosefa's practice may suffer as a result of his name being publicised it's only fair his potential clients know the background of the person that may potentially represent them.

Oh and there's another local lawyer in Court next week. This one's on the receiving end of a Serious Fraud Office prosecution. I'll keep you posted.

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