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Prominent Treaty of Waitangi lawyer Donna Hall has been cleared of a disciplinary charge by the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal.
The charge stemmed from Ms Hall's involvement in a Taupo land deal. The Law Society's standards committee had alleged that between November 2006 and July 2007 she acted for the vendor, purchaser and lender without advising them of the potential conflict.
Further allegations suggested she did not urge the buyer and lender to seek independent advice and didn’t stop acting for either of them, when acting for them would likely disadvantage one or both of them.
Landcorp was looking to sell 7040 hectares in a multi-million dollar deal to various Maori interests through Hikuwai Hapu Lands Trust.
Maori leaders wanted the land to be returned to Maori via a Waitangi Tribunal settlement. Because this wasn’t guaranteed, they set up the trust so Landcorp could sell the ancestral land to one buyer and various Maori interests could sort out the parcels later.
The complex deal involved multiple parties, gathering a $5 million deposit and, ultimately, the sale. The law society’s standards committee alleged Ms Hall acted for multiple parties during certain part of the transaction.
Although the investigation and resulting charge were justified “on their face,” she was not shown to be in breach of rules referred to in the charges, the tribunal says in its decision.
The tribunal fixed the hearing cost at $43,750 to be paid by the New Zealand Law Society.
Queen’s counsel Helen Cull represented Ms Hall.
Wellington barrister Gary Turkington was the lawyer for the standards committee, which has 20 working days to appeal.