GUEST BLOG: Angry Lawyer – Collins, Odgers, Williams and legal ethics

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We deserve better lawyers than Judith Collins

Three of the worst offenders exposed in Dirty Politics are lawyers: Judith Collins, Cathy Odgers, and Jordan Williams. What Nicky Hager exposed them doing would be out of line for anyone, but from a lawyer, it’s worse. As a lawyer myself, I believe we should be better than that.

New Zealand deserves better politics (and on 20 September, we can vote to get it). But we also deserve better lawyers. Lawyers should not misuse confidential information or release public servants’ personal details. I am embarrassed to share my profession with people who do.

At law school, we are taught that we are officers of the Court first, and agents for our clients second. Our own politics must be a distant third. Then, in a limp piece of box ticking, we have to submit forms and references as graduates, so that people we don’t know can issue us certificates proudly declaring the we have good character – whatever that means. Then and only then can we be admitted to the bar.

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From that day on, we are legally bound to follow a code of professional ethics. We are given huge trust and power over people’s lives. We advise people about some of the hardest choices they might ever face. I don’t know how many clients I’ve seen in tears, including some of the toughest, most stoic men I’ve ever met. We are trusted to advise, represent, and help people through some of the darkest places in their lives.

But we need to be worthy of that trust – and we should not be the ones setting out get “utu”, “ruin” people, or “return double”. Odgers, Slater, and Williams have breached New Zealand’s trust. They can and should face consequences.

First, lawyers must not commit crimes or assist others in doing so. Judith Collins now faces serious criminal allegations. When Collins released Simon Pleasants’ personal details to Cam Slater – which she admits doing – she corruptly used official information for personal political gain. Collins holds a practicing certificate as a lawyer and even sent the email from her @collinslaw.co.nz email address. Even though Pleasants faced death threats as a result, Collins probably won’t even be charged – because charges under s 105A need consent from the Attorney-General.

Worse, perhaps, is shown by the email that forced her resignation. Collins appears to either have been part of or at least known of a conspiracy or attempt to pervert the course of justice. Slater claimed she was part of his cabal’s interfering with the Serious Fraud Office to help disgraced Hanover Finance director Mark Hotchin escape investigation, despite losing Hanover investors billions.

Odgers comes out no cleaner. She emailed Slater, Hooton, and Farrar asking for Nicky Hager’s address and then wrote a blog post publishing it – despite saying that it would be “a disaster” if her clients knew where he lived, and that he “may even need police protection”. This is gross, but worse, she was – by her own words – helping her “Chinese friends” to seek revenge on him for his insider trading investigations. Lawyers must not make threats, under rule 2.7 of the Rules of Conduct and Client Care. But Odgers was happy to write “Chop chop for Nicky”.

Jordan Williams, too, at least faces allegations of criminal offending. He told Cam Slater that he had compromising text messages from Rodney Hide that could force him to resign from Act. Even though Hide claims he wasn’t blackmailed, Williams seems to have conspired with Slater to commit blackmail. Whether this was a conspiracy would depend on how far their plan had progressed when Hide’s resignation made it redundant.

Even after Dirty Politics came out, Williams continued his old tricks – appearing to threaten Helen Kelly via Twitter.

We should not tolerate this sort of conduct from New Zealand’s lawyers. Each of these allegations violates the Rules of Conduct and Client Care, and the New Zealand Law Society must hold them to account. The Law Society acts when it receives complaints – and any person can complain. You can by filling in the form here or just emailing the Law Society. The Law Society will then contact you to confirm your complaint before forwarding it to the person you have complained about and requiring them to reply.

If you think that lawyers shouldn’t do nasty things like these three have, complain. I have, and will again.

Even if the Law Society does not accept that Collins, Odgers, or Williams committed or helped others commit criminal offences, it’s very hard to see how they can escape findings of misconduct. They have brought my profession into disrepute. Lawyers should not be – in retired Judge Sir Edmund Thomas’s words – hitmen without bullets.

They have flaunted the rule of law, played fast and loose with confidential information, and shown that they are not fit to be lawyers.

Whatever other consequences they face (or don’t), these three should be kicked right out of the legal profession.

 

Angry Lawyer is an Auckland barrister and solicitor with experience in big commercial law firms, community law centres, and specialist boutiques. He thinks more lawyers should be like Ted Thomas.

 

14 COMMENTS

  1. As a lawyer, you will presumably be interested in pursuing and charging the person who illegally hacked the emails.

    NZ deserves better than a pack of media hacks who uncritically regurgitate illegally obtained emails

    They are no better than the News of the World in this regard.

      • Lawyers do not pursue criminals or decide whether to charge them. That’s the police’s job. I have no problem with the police investigating and charging the hacker, if they decide that it is in the public interest to lay charges and that they have a reasonable prospect of success – the same test that would apply in any case.

        Personally, I do not think charges are in the public interest at this point.

    • You don’t understand what lawyers actually do, Andy. Maybe before pretending to have ethics, you might want to do a bit of reading.

  2. The Grammar Police hereby inform you that “They have flaunted the rule of law, played fast and loose with confidential information, and shown that they are not fit to be lawyers.” involves a serious misuse of the word “flaunted” when “flouted” was clearly the intended meaning.

    Otherwise, strong agreement here.

    Furthermore, I wonder whether you have examined what appears to be evidence of Odgers’ involvement with international crims, as detailed at http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2014/08/new-zealand-prime-minister-john-key-the-whale-oil-blog-and-international-organized-crime.html#comment-2295065

    Even the best and most ethical lawyers must occasionally serve unsavoury clients in the normal course of their professional duties. But it seems to me there is a definite line between providing professional services in an ethical way and becoming a participant in crime, and that line may have been crossed in this case.

    • You got me on flaunted vs flouted! Thanks for the positive comments.

      The fact that lawyers have to assist unsavoury clients is part of why the Rules of Conduct and Client Care are so firm and uncompromising.

      I haven’t yet read that post on Naked Capitalism, but will today.

  3. Judith Collins was forced to resign because it is alleged that she materially influenced an SFO investigation.

    And according to the law, that is a criminal, jailable offence, if she is found guilty.

    So, what happens when the Prime Minister does exactly the same thing?

    Because he did.

    Here is the proof:

    On 20th June 2010, Minister Simon Power, the Justice Minister before Judith Collins, accused Allan Hubbard of fraud and announced that the SFO were going to investigate him for it: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=10653246

    Please note that the accusation of fraud was made at the *beginning* of the SFO investigation, instead of at the end.

    On 1st September 2010 (exactly four years ago today), John Key appeared on TVNZ One News and blamed Allan Hubbard *completely* for the collapse of South Canterbury Finance: http://tvnz.co.nz/business-news/key-blames-hubbard-scf-collapse-3753427

    John Key also made numerous other public statements accusing Allan Hubbard while the matter was still under SFO investigation.

    Not surprisingly, on 20th June 2011, exactly 12 months to the day after he was first accused of fraud, (remember – before the SFO investigation was even started), Allan Hubbard was charged with fraud: http://www.sfo.govt.nz/n202,21.html

    In closing, ask yourself this one simple question:

    If the Minister of Justice accused someone of fraud BEFORE any SFO investigation was even started, and the Prime Minister himself waded into the public forum on several occasions during the same SFO ‘investigation’, accusing the person being investigated of being ‘completely responsible’ for the situation, would that put undue pressure on the SFO to find fraud, or be able to be considered by any reasonable person as “influencing the investigation”?

      • I don’t have transcripts, sorry. I spoke with Allan almost weekly throughout his ordeal so I have an encyclopedic knowledge of his case and an enormous amount of documents and information stored in secure locations, but the You Tube videos were just recorded as I spoke from my awareness of the situation. I was privy to aspects of Allan’s defense which have been suppressed but I would be willing to reveal them via sworn affidavit in the appropriate circumstances and environment. My personal safety must be a factor in this. I have been subjected to all sorts of abuse, intimidation and even threats against my life for continuing to raise awareness on this issue so I am guarded about who I can trust with the information as a result.

    • I have complained about some of those involved, and will be filing more complaints too. I hope other people have complained to the Law Society too – but complaints are confidential, so I don’t know.

      Anyone can complain, so go ahead and file another complaint yourself!

      • Is there a link, process, hints/tips etc as to how we might complain to the best effect?

        Is it just the Law Society or are there other places?

  4. Legal ethics? An oxymoron if ever there was. Sounds like accounting ethics haha. Follow the money is the ethnic here folks. Power,money and good old fashioned greed.

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