Barry Hart's illness a 'delaying tactic'
An illness that prevented ex-lawyer Barry Hart from defending himself at a disciplinary hearing was merely another delaying tactic which he attempted to "cloak in respectability", lawyers representing the Law Society say.
Their comments come after the first day of the hearing at the High Court in Auckland of an appeal by Hart against being struck off as a barrister. A 46-year veteran of criminal defence law, Hart was found guilty of professional misconduct earlier this year at an undefended hearing.
The Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal found that Hart had overcharged fees, obstructed an Auckland District Law Society investigation and did not pay the full amount to a private investigator he had hired.
Lawyers for Hart, who also faces bankruptcy proceedings later this week after ANZ Bank went after him for $30 million, told the court there had been a miscarriage of justice because he was not able to defend himself.
A doctor's certificate stating Hart was "unfit to work" was provided to the tribunal, but the doctor refused to appear at the hearing to explain the certificate further and so the hearing went ahead undefended.
Law Society lawyer Paul Collins said the doctor's certificate was insufficient to force an adjournment.
Hart's lawyers also argued that perceived overcharging of clients was not grounds for ending Hart's illustrious legal career.
Lawyer Jeremy Bioletti said Hart had been singled out for punishment because he was willing to "stand up to the system" and that may have made him "unpopular in some circles".
Bioletti argued the clients who said he had overcharged them had actually received value for their money.
Lawyers for the Law Society previously argued the work Hart had done for a particular criminal client could have been done for $15,000, instead of the $35,000 that Hart charged.
But Bioletti said that clients paid lawyers for results, and Hart had succeeded in securing both name suppression and bail for his client whose offending was at the top end of Crimes Act offences.
"People spend millions of dollars defending themselves from criminal charges in this town," Bioletti said.
He said it was a failure in Hart's communication of the costs that led to the overcharging complaint, not a systematic exploitation of vulnerable people.
The hearing before Chief High Court Justice Helen Winkelmann and Justice Graham Lang continues today.
- Fairfax Media