The New Zealand Law Society National Standards Committee is appealing the two-year suspension given to former Russell McVeagh James Gardner-Hopkins for misconduct

He was found guilty of six charges of misconduct in June last year, including touching interns inappropriately at work functions in 2015.

The Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal found him guilty of all charges and in January this year he was suspended for two years and ordered to pay costs of more than $100,000.

While the law society would not comment on the matter further, last month it said it would ask the high court to strike Gardner Hopkins from the roll of barristers and solicitors, or suspend him for at least three years.

The law society appoints standards committee members and provides administrative support to standards committees, which make independent decisions.

Serious misconduct

Gardner-Hopkins' inappropriate sexual behaviour mostly occurred at the law firm’s Christmas party. He was accused and found guilty of inappropriately touching several young women who were interns at the time.

While he accepted the findings of serious misconduct, standards committee lawyer Dale La Hood said Gardner-Hopkins had only accepted the offending at the last possible opportunity and had yet to express any remorse.

In the tribunal decision, Judge Dale Clarkson said the two-year suspension was a “proportionate and proper penalty” in light of Gardner-Hopkins’ unblemished disciplinary record prior to the offending, and the steps he had taken to address his psychological and alcohol issues since.

“We also note that Mr Gardner-Hopkins will face considerable financial penalties as a result of bearing the costs of these proceedings which have been lengthy and complicated and that he will do so, in the context of not being able to practice as a lawyer.”

Shame and disrepute

However, he said Gardner-Hopkins' conduct had “brought shame” on himself and disrepute to his profession, and he was censured accordingly.

“You will undoubtedly be aware of how close you came to losing your career entirely,” Judge Clarkson said. “Any further misconduct would almost certainly lead to your removal from the legal profession.”

Gardner-Hopkins now works for himself in Auckland.