In handing down his decision on Wednesday last week forbidding George to practice in the Cook Islands land Court, Chief Justice Weston made the exception that George could appear on his own behalf or that of his wife.
George was given a three-year suspension from the land division after CJ Weston found in favour of five complaints made against the local law practitioner in 2013. An additional 18-month suspension from the Court of Appeal was also imposed on George at the time.
The 2013 complaints were in respect of George’s conduct as a lawyer. CJ Weston commented then that the complaints showed a pattern of conduct by George. Had George observed the conditions set in 2013, the land division suspension would have expired in September 2016.
In February this year a land agent laid a complaint with CJ Weston alleging George had breached the 2013 disciplinary decision when he appeared before JP John Kenning in the land division of the High Court.
George responded to the allegation in an affidavit that an emergency had developed and he had been asked to take steps for a client on a pro bono basis. He also claimed to have sought leave to appear at the start of the hearing before JP Kenning.
Neither JP Kenning, the deputy Registrar nor the complainant believed George had sought leave. These accounts were accepted by George’s lawyer Brian Mason. Mason also submitted in a hearing before CJ Weston that the JP did not have jurisdiction to authorise George to appear contrary to directions given by the Chief Justice.
Mason suggested that for George to be struck off the roll would be too severe a penalty. CJ Weston stated in his formal advice to George of his decision: ‘I believe the appropriate penalty for an instance such as that occurring here would be suspension but there is doubt as to whether under the current Act, such a right of suspension exists. Therefore, I need to select from a lesser penalty than might otherwise be appropriate’.
CJ Weston informed George: “I now limit your practice. You may never appear in the Land Division again. The one exception to this is if you are to appear either personally or on behalf of your wife in any matter. Other than that, though, you may not appear in the Land Division again”.
The Chief Justice added it was appropriate that he formally censure George. He reminded George of having stressed the importance of observing the appropriate professional boundaries. CJ Weston advised George that he is now on notice ‘that any further infractions may result in your being struck off the register even if the individual breach is not, by itself, otherwise deserving of that outcome’.