Dodgy Lawyer suspended for “threats of menace” to another lawyer

A COLOURFUL Auckland lawyer found guilty of ‘’disgraceful and dishonourable’ conduct is remaining defiant in the face of a two-month suspension from the profession.

The New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal this month suspended Boon Gunn Hong from practicing as a barrister or solicitor for a period of two months after finding him guilty of misconduct for “persistent personal attacks” and “threats of menace” to another lawyer, Frank Deliu.

But the penalty, which includes costs of $45,000, has been ‘stayed’ pending a High Court appeal by Hong against the Tribunal’s guilty finding.

Between 2010 and 2012, Hong and Deliu were engaged in a heated dispute involving a series of “offensive and intemperate” emails around a court case.

The dispute began when Hong received a letter from Deliu informing him that he was being sued by one of his previous clients with whom he was now representing.

In its findings, the Tribunal said there was no justification for Hong’s actions, which at one stage included threats of physical violence and promises he would have his dogs attack the complainant.

“The correspondence was over a period of time and therefore cannot be excused as a momentary lapse or overreaction. We have also identified the particular pieces of correspondence, which by themselves amount to “disgraceful or dishonourable” conduct,” the Tribunal said.   

“Taken cumulatively the fact that there are nine pieces of what can be described as scurrilous communications, aggravates those individual instances.”

However, the Tribunal said that given the circumstances the level of offending was not sufficient enough to persuade it that Hong was no longer a fit and proper person to continue practicing as a lawyer.

That said, Hong’s conduct was ‘serious in its reflection on the standing of the profession in general rather than being regarded as a mere spat between lawyers’.

Aggravating features of the offending were that Hong’s attacks against Deliu were ‘persistent and wilful and continued over a lengthy period and ‘were not just a moment’s aberration or loss of control’.

The Tribunal also noted there had been a lack of insight and remorse by Hong over his actions.

“… the Tribunal is concerned as to Mr Hong’s level of insight to the degree that we consider there is a real risk of repetition of the conduct. A short period of suspension is required in our view to allow the practitioner to reflect on his behaviour and ensure that in future when he strikes a challenging situation, particularly in a personal sense, that he seeks assistance in dealing with it,” the Tribunal said.

“He does not appear to fully appreciate the boundaries he ought to impose upon himself in his professional dealings.”

The Tribunal revealed that in one document Hong had filed with the Tribunal he was still making allegations about Deliu and denying that his earlier threats were inappropriate. He also referred to having been defamed by prosecuting counsel leading to his ‘being maliciously suspended by the Tribunal’.

In mitigation, the Tribunal accepted that Hong had unnecessarily served a four- month suspension period in connection with another separate matter.

In April last year Hong was suspended for 10 months for breaching a Law Society Standards Committee order that he attend an education course after he was found guilty of providing incorrect legal advice over a property dispute. Hong appealed the penalty and on appeal the suspension was reduced to the four months, which he’d already served while awaiting the hearing of the appeal.

Hong then filed an application for a judicial review against the findings of the Standards Committee and was successful in having the ruling set aside.

With this latest case, Hong also attempted to resolve the conflict by betting on the outcome with Deliu, giving the details in yet another email.

“I invite [the barrister] to ride this case against me as the [plaintiffs’] counsel. We both agree to a contingent fee. The one who loses pays that contingent fee to the other party as agreed award of costs. [The barrister] and his…Chamber counsels do not charge the [plaintiffs] at all. No costs need to be sought. I nominate $30,000.00 plus GST.”

cookStephen Cook is a multi award winning journalist and former news editor and assistant editor of the Herald on Sunday.

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