Public defender Jonathan Down quits

Auckland Public Defender Jonathan Down quit in a shock move this week.

Mr Down, who was appointed to the senior legal role in early 2010, confirmed to NBR ONLINE he would “step down at the end of the year”.

He says he told PDS staff of his move last Friday.

Mr Down quit at a time a Justice Ministry investigation is said to be under way into the source and content of emails involving at least one Auckland legal aid lawyer, Tudor Clee.

He told NBR ONLINE his resignation and a Law Society complaint against Mr Clee - dismissed in July - are "totally unrelated, unconnected and irrelevant."

Mr Clee declined to comment but he and Mr Down clashed publicly last year over government moves to expand the PDS and use fewer contracted lawyers in legal aid cases.

The emails are understood to have resulted in a complaint to the Law Society over what one legal source claimed was a faked smear campaign against Mr Clee.

Mr Down says his resignation has nothing to do with Mr Clee.

He said a law society complaint involving Mr Clee was still “current” and he “won’t be able to talk about it”.

Minister of Justice Judith Collins' private secretary Emma Kelly said: "It would not be appropriate for the minister to comment on employment issues. All employment issues are for the chief executive."

The Public Defence Service, which has had a turbulent beginning, was set up with the intention of saving on the burgeoning annual legal aid bill – now standing at more than $172 million.