Donna Hall claims 'ground shifting' over alleged conflict
Well-known Wellington lawyer Donna Hall claims the “ground is shifting” as she defends allegations she acted for the vendor, purchaser and lender during the sale of North Island land in 2007.
Ms Hall is fighting conflict of interest allegations before the Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal.
A complaint was made by a shareholder of the Tauhara Middle 15 Trust, which bought the Tauhara North block near Taupo from Landcorp with another trust for $5 million.
The Law Society's standards committee alleges Ms Hall was conflicted when she acted for the vendor, purchaser and lender.
It is alleged there was a conflict because Ms Hall acted for both Tauhara and the Hikuwai Hapu Lands Trust, which facilitated the transaction.
While the core issue is that Ms Hall had a conflict of interest, it was the role of the Maori Land Court which took centre stage today.
In a heated exchange at the beginning of the second day of the three-day tribunal, Ms Hall's lawyer Helen Cull, QC, said the Maori Land Court had a supervisory jurisdiction with powers to promote and assist on behalf of Maori land owners, including variations of trust.
"Including dealing with specific problems with the trustees, and if the court was of the mind that the trustees should have gotten further advice they could have said so, this is a wide jurisdiction," Ms Cull said.
While the Maori Land Court gave its approval and authorised the sale of the land, it signalled it would not approve the purchase until five questions had been answered.
The Maori Land Court had supervisory jurisdiction and Ms Hall's conflict of interest could have been resolved by the court, the tribunal was told.
“It is my submission, the ground is shifting in relation to the allegations in this charge," Ms Cull said.
She says that in order to respond, the evidence covered and canvased by the Maori Land Court in 2007 be placed before the tribunal, because the jurisdiction of that court is relevant.
Ms Cull said she would like to submit documentation of what was presented to the Maori Land Court during June 2007, because the Law Society alleged Ms Hall had brought the law profession into disrepute for having failed to answer the five questions asked by the court.
The society says Ms Hall "bypassed" these questions and put the Hikuwai trustees first.
The application was met with hesitation by the tribunal.
"The Maori Land Court can't cure Ms Hall's conflict of interest, can it?" tribunal member, Susan Hughes, QC, said.
Law Society standards committee lawyer Gary Turkington said he did not want to be obstructive, but he could not see the relevance of the submission.
"I have raised this a number of times, but we still have not received an affidavit from the practitioner about what happened," he said.
It is not clear if Ms Hall will give evidence.
The hearing continues.