Lawyer jailed for stealing from clients

STOLE FROM CLIENTS: Richard Holland during sentencing at the Auckland District Court.
STOLE FROM CLIENTS: Richard Holland during sentencing at the Auckland District Court.

An Auckland lawyer who stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from clients has today been jailed for 2-1/2 years.

Richard Holland, 57, appeared in the Auckland District Court for sentencing this afternoon after pleading guilty to and being convicted of three counts of theft in a special relationship.

The court heard that between November 2011 and March 2013 Holland had misappropriated about $300,000 from three property sales by his clients, one of whom was saving for retirement, which he then transferred to a personal trust account.

While some of that money accounted for legal fees the majority was taken in various lump sums disguised as payment for services which Judge David Sharp said "grossly exceeded" that to which he was entitled.

One of Holland's victims was coerced into signing a fictitious loan agreement because she believed it was the only way she would get her money back.

In a victim impact statement she said she had felt "intimidated" into signing the loan and the loss of the money, which was unlikely to ever be returned, had stripped her of her retirement savings and made it difficult to provide for her family.

Two other clients who had been short-changed from their property sales by Holland had experienced a "substantial" loss and Holland's actions were a gross breach of trust, Judge Sharp said.

The victims' names were suppressed.

Although Holland's methods weren't particularly sophisticated Judge Sharp said Holland had attempted to cover up his offending during a random Law Society audit. It had shown his record keeping needed attention but didn't uncover his criminal activity.

"As an experienced solicitor you're poorly placed to claim naivety," Judge Sharp said.

He declined Holland's lawyers' request for home detention and sentenced him to 2-1/2 years' imprisonment.

Holland's lawyer, Fletcher Pilditch, said his client's 31-year career had ended in "enduring shame and regret" after being struck off the roll of barristers and solicitors by a disciplinary tribunal because of his crimes.

Holland had offered to participate in restorative justice processes, which his victims declined.

Holland's main motivation had been the financial pressure his small conveyance business was under and the money had gone towards keeping his family financially afloat, Pilditch said.