Lawyers cost commission $342,239

KATE CHAPMAN
Last updated 05:00 23/11/2012

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The trouble-prone Maori Language Commission spent almost $350,000 on legal advice over the past three years.

Problems at the commission reached a peak when former chief executive Huhana Rokx resigned in 2010 following a complaint by staff about her management style.

It was later revealed she had made thousands of dollars of personal purchases on her work credit card. Although she repaid the money, it was against state sector rules.

Information obtained under the Official Information Act shows the commission has spent $342,239 on advice from external law organisations since 2010.

Three law firms were consulted but the bulk of that spending, $335,249, was on Wellington public and employment lawyers Chen Palmer.

Partner Mai Chen declined to comment.

A further $3452 was spent on commercial and public lawyers Buddle Findlay and $3538 on work done by Quigg.

Quigg is a boutique law firm in Wellington which, according to its website, specialises in corporate, mergers and acquisitions, employment and insurance.

Commission boss Glenis Philip-Barbara said advice was taken on the review of the Maori Language Act, changes in the sector, international legislation for indigenous languages and implications of a Waitangi Tribunal Report.

The commission also sought advice on changing the fees framework used to pay its board.

Earlier this year Fairfax Media reported that commission members were overpaid $124,000 over five years because payments were calculated using the wrong guidelines.

When the error was discovered, Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples asked then State Services Minister Tony Ryall to raise the maximum entitlements.

He declined but no repayments were required. At the time, Te Puni Kokiri suggested Erima Henare be paid extra as a specialist consultant after he was overpaid as chairman. That is not allowed and the State Services Commission ruled it out.

Mrs Philip-Barbara said advice on risk management was also sought from lawyers.

That included an organisational review and advice on employment law, libel, cultural and intellectual property, and general staff matters.

"Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Maori does not have a lawyer on staff, nor do we employ a senior human relations adviser."

The corporate services team at the commission consisted of just four full-time positions, she said.

"We contract services on a needs basis."

THE BILLS

Chen Palmer: $172,509 (2010-11) $102,511 (2011-12) $60,229 (2012-13)

Buddle Findlay: $2522 (2010-11) $615 (2011-12) $315 (2012-13)

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Quigg: $3365 (2010-11) $173 (2011-12) $0 (2012-13)

- The Dominion Post

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