Christchurch lawyer struck off for misconduct

STRUCK OFF: Christchurch lawyer Murray Withers has been struck off after three charges of misconduct were brought by the Law Society.
STRUCK OFF: Christchurch lawyer Murray Withers has been struck off after three charges of misconduct were brought by the Law Society.

A Christchurch lawyer with more than 30 years experience has been struck off for serious misconduct.


Murray Ian Withers has been found guilty of three charges of misconduct by the Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal.

The charges related to deception and dishonesty, including Withers concealing personal interests.

But it is not the first time Withers professional conduct has come under scrutiny.

He has previously been found guilty of ''professional failures''. The tribunal decision stated the past breaches ''involved conduct of a similar nature''.

As a result, the Law Society's Standards Committee, which brought forward the charges, advocated Withers be struck off.

''We have no confidence that there is no risk of further professional wrongdoing by Mr Withers. As well as a serious nature of the current charges, Mr Withers has a disciplinary history which indicates an unacceptable approach to his professional responsibilities.''

Withers, who is also the Metro Rugby chairman and involved in Rotary and Lifeline, proposed working through the ''deficiencies'' in his law firm, Murray Withers & Associates, by committing to a coaching and mentoring programme.

However, the tribunal decided to strike Withers off due to his ''calculated approach'' and the extended period of his inappropriate conduct, coupled with his previous unsatisfactory professional behaviour.

''These factors support a view that Mr Withers tends to ignore his responsibilities, and also suggest that he is unlikely to change, which make a strike off appropriate.''

Withers was also ordered to pay legal costs of about $40,000 to the Law Society Standards Committee, and reimburse the New Zealand Law Society $23,900.

New Zealand Law Society president Chris Moore said the tribunal's decision showed it was vital for lawyers to ensure they disclosed any personal interests they might have which could cause a conflict with the interests of their clients.

"The relationship between lawyer and client is one of confidence and trust that must never be abused.

"Any undisclosed interest which a lawyer might have is a direct threat to that relationship of confidence and trust."

New Zealand Law Society Canterbury-Westland branch president Rachel Dunningham said a struck off lawyer could be reinstated to the roll of barristers and solicitors and practice again, but it was ''pretty hard''.

She said they would have to prove they had been rehabilitated.

Withers was found guilty on the below charges:

- Failure over fees due to the Christchurch City Council for a property development in which Withers had an interest through a company shareholding.

- Acting deceptively in not disclosing a personal interest when acting as a lawyer for a trust. He was a shareholder and director of a company borrowing money and buying land from the trust.

- Acting deceptively in continuing to conceal his personal interest in the company when it failed to repay the loan. Withers tried to renegotiate repayment terms with the client trust to advantage the company.


The Press