Lawyer found guilty of misconduct for trying to destroy ex-husband's career

Jeanne Denham has been found guilty of misconduct, and could be struck off from practising as a lawyer.
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Jeanne Denham has been found guilty of misconduct, and could be struck off from practising as a lawyer.

An Auckland lawyer could be struck off after being found guilty of misconduct for trying to destroy her former husband's reputation and career.

Among other things, Jeanne Denham organised for blog posts to appear on Cameron Slater's Whaleoil site that targeted Peter Clague in his role as principal of Kristin School.

The New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal described Denham's actions as "a troubling and somewhat unusual case" in a just-released decision.

Peter Clague was principal of Kristin School until his former wife set out to destroy his reputation and career.
KATASHA MCCULLOUGH/STUFF

Peter Clague was principal of Kristin School until his former wife set out to destroy his reputation and career.

It said her behaviour fell well below the standard required of lawyers and had "tarnished the reputation of the profession".

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Denham's lawyer Warren Pyke  said an appeal against the judgment had already been lodged. He said he was unable to provide further details, but added both Denham and her former husband were "flawed human beings".

"Given the very personal context of the underlying events, sensationalised coverage of this matter would only serve prurient interest," he said.

Denham and Clague married in July 2010, and in September of that year they were involved in a brief physical altercation, the tribunal decision said.

Denham claimed she was was seriously assaulted, however Clague contended he had grabbed her by the shoulders before slipping and falling into her, which caused her to fall.

The pair separated two years later and became involved in a bitter property dispute - Denham subsequently laid an assault complaint with police, who investigated and ultimately decided not to lay charges.

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The judgment said that in October 2012, Denham engaged the services of Carrick Graham, a public relations consultant known for his connections to Whaleoil blogger Cameron Slater, who arranged for pieces to be published that were highly critical of her former husband.

Multiple text exchanges between Denham and Graham showed how they discussed the impact the Whaleoil blog posts would have on Clague's reputation as Kristin principal.

Denham said in a message on 25 October 2012 that a recent blog post was generating interest in the school community, adding: "It'll spread like wildfire now!", the judgment said.

Carrick replied two minutes later: "Excellent. We'll talk more tomorrow about what else we can run on there!"

Following another blog post the following month, Denham wrote it made her "laugh out loud".

Carrick later told Denham her former husband was now "damaged goods" in terms of his reputation, the judgment said.

In 2014, Denham filed a private prosecution against Clague for assault, following unsuccessful attempts to overturn the police decision to not lay charges.

She arranged for Graham to leak details of the case to media before Clague could file an application for name suppression, noting "it might be a race".

The prosecution was dismissed as an "abuse of process" by the presiding judge, who ruled in 2015 it had been primarily brought to "destroy his [Clague's] career and reputation and collaterally damage Kristin School".

Denham was ordered to pay $146,000 in costs, which have not been paid as she has since declared herself bankrupt.

The tribunal noted that even though Denham was not practising as a lawyer at the time of the dispute, she had previously been admitted to the bar and should have been well aware of her duty to avoid abusing the court process.

It said Denham's evidence concerning her intentions about targeting Kristin School was "disingenuous and unimpressive".

"Ms Denham was cross-examined before us for more than a day and was at times evasive and lacking in credibility, particularly when faced with very plain emails and text messages which had been written by her at the time in question," the decision said.

Denham is now awaiting penalty, and has appealed the decision to the High Court.

 - Stuff

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