Calls for ex-partner of Russell McVeagh to be struck off for misconduct

An authority will ask the High Court to strike a former law firm partner Russell McVeagh off the barristers and solicitors roll, or at least suspend him for three years.

James Gardner-Hopkins was found guilty of six misconduct charges after he behaved in a sexually inappropriate manner towards law students.

He was suspended for two years by the Lawyers and Conveyors Disciplinary Court and ordered to pay more than $100,000 in costs to the Law Society and its Standards Committee, as well as court costs, in January.

Russell McVeagh's former partner James Gardner-Hopkins has faced allegations of sexually inappropriate behavior from trainees and has become the focal point of New Zealand's #MeToo movement.

Kevin Stent / Stuff

Russell McVeagh’s former partner James Gardner-Hopkins has faced allegations of sexually inappropriate behavior from trainees and has become the focal point of New Zealand’s #MeToo movement.

However, on Tuesday the National Standards Committee 1, a committee made up of lawyers and non-lawyers, said it would appeal the sanction.

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The Law Society originally asked the court to disbar Gardner-Hopkins or, failing that, impose a suspension of at least three years. Things understands that the appeal will seek the imposition of the same sentence.

Gardner-Hopkins’ inappropriate sexual behavior mainly happened at a Christmas party in Wellington in 2015 and became the focal point of the #MeToo movement in New Zealand.

At the misconduct hearing in May, several women spoke about Gardner-Hopkins’ behavior, which led to him inappropriately touching a number of students.

The women said he touched their buttocks and breasts and tried to kiss them.

Russell McVeagh's former partner James Gardner-Hopkins has been suspended for two years.

Kevin Stent / Stuff

Russell McVeagh’s former partner James Gardner-Hopkins has been suspended for two years.

At the December 9 penalty hearing, Gardner-Hopkins told Standards Committee attorney Dale La Hood that he would not appeal the court’s findings.

He said he also agreed to deliberately intimately touch women at the Christmas party and at his home.

“I totally accept that the culture of the team I led and encouraged was inappropriate,” he said.

La Hood maintained that Gardner-Hopkins only accepted the offense at the last possible opportunity and had not yet expressed remorse.

Later in the hearing, Gardner-Hopkins apologized to his victims.

Julian Long, acting on behalf of Gardner-Hopkins, said his client was not the same person as in 2015.

“He wants to redeem himself in the business…He had two nights that he will regret for the rest of his life.”

Long said his client is now aware of his demons and is fixing them.

Since leaving Russell McVeagh he has worked for himself in Auckland.

In the court ruling, Judge Dale Clarkson warned Gardner-Hopkins that any further wrongdoing would “almost certainly” lead to his removal from the profession.

“You will no doubt know how close you came to completely losing your career.”

The court ruled that a suspension was an appropriate sanction because it provided an opportunity for reflection and rehabilitation, which was “an appropriate and important objective in the present case”.

At the end of the suspension, he must satisfy a committee that he has undergone therapy or other treatment to address his drinking and misunderstanding of professional boundaries, the court heard.

“In our view, without such evidence, it is extremely doubtful that a practicing certificate will be reissued.”

Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa/New Zealand Law Society President Tiana Epati said at the time that the case had been a catalyst for real and lasting change.

“The onus is squarely on him to prove that he is fit and suitable to be a lawyer again.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated that the Law Society was appealing the sanction. The National Standards Committee 1 is the body that appeals the sanction. Updated at 3:40 p.m., February 8, 2022.