Lead defense attorney’s actions referred to Bar in Taranaki meth trafficking case

For more on the missing 10-year-old child involved in a boating tragedy, New Zealand answers the call from COP27 and the ongoing midterm elections in the latest headlines of the New Zealand Herald. Video / NZ Herald

A judge has criticized the conduct of an experienced defense attorney who failed to send a qualified attorney in his absence to convict his client in a “high stakes” meth trafficking case.

Judge Tony Greig made his displeasure with attorney Mark Ryan clear during a hearing in New Plymouth District Court that ended with the judge raising concerns about the lawyer’s actions at the New Zealand Law Society.

At the center of the case was defendant Marlon Jon Bird, of Taranaki, who was rushed from jail to court on Tuesday to be convicted of a series of drug offences, including possession of methamphetamine for the ‘supply.

But Bird’s lawyer was not there despite the court’s consent to appear via audio visual link (AVL) due to his involvement in a Palmerston North trial at the same time.

Instead, Ryan, of Vulcan Chambers in Auckland, asked his junior solicitor Jamie-Anne Tulloch to come forward via AVL on his behalf.

She told the judge that Ryan’s instructions were clear – that she had to be firm in her request for an adjournment.

Yesterday, Ryan filed a request for an adjournment of sentence, despite the date being set four months ago, so that a culture report could be completed.

Marlon Jon Bird appeared in New Plymouth District Court on Tuesday.  Photo / Tara Shaskey
Marlon Jon Bird appeared in New Plymouth District Court on Tuesday. Photo / Tara Shaskey

Judge Greig’s frustration with the request and the reason for it were evident. However, Tulloch said Bird wanted the report to go to court and the process was already underway with Dr. Jarrod Gilbert.

She said it would explain how the 35-year-old ‘found’ himself involved in drug-related offenses and there could be misconvictions without it.

But the judge said a “very comprehensive” pre-sentence report had been provided to the court and wondered what additional information a culture report might provide.

Crown Attorney Rebekah Hicklin agreed with Judge Greig, submitting the pre-sentence report already showing there was a connection between Bird’s background and his offense.

This included him being exposed to drug use from an early age and would warrant a reduction in his sentence, she said.

Hicklin opposed the adjournment and expressed concern that the case is dragging on further, as it has already been in court since 2019.

When Tulloch continued to push for it to be postponed, she said it was a ‘high-stakes conviction’ involving ‘serious drug offenses’ and Bird was entitled to have his lawyer, Ryan, present.

Lead counsel’s instructions to Tulloch were limited to asking for an adjournment, she said, before revealing the high-profile sentencing exceeded her legal aid qualifications.

“I am not qualified to appear on this conviction and I am concerned about the prospect of Mr. Bird being sentenced in the absence of his attorney.”

From the dock, Bird made his own appeal for a new dismissal.

“I would really like this to be adjourned so that I have a chance,” he pleaded.

But Judge Greig said full submissions had been provided to the court and the sentencing would proceed as planned, prompting a gasp from Bird’s mother who was sitting in the public gallery.

Tulloch, however, continued her attempts to persuade the judge otherwise, explaining that she had limited knowledge of the case and had not benefited from the pre-sentence report or letters of remorse.

“This case is very messy for a junior attorney to appear.

“I am unable to properly defend Mr. Bird. Mr. Bird is entitled to proper legal representation and that is not happening in this court.”

Eventually, Judge Greig admitted that he would need to postpone it, but it was clear that the fault for the further delay lay with Ryan.

“He was aware of this, he knew he was in a trial today and he did nothing to instruct other lawyers.”

Judge Greig sympathized with Tulloch and the “position she was placed in” by the lead attorney.

In granting the adjournment, he ordered a qualified attorney to appear in person on Bird’s new sentencing date of November 16.

He also referred the matter to the New Zealand Law Society, the national regulatory body for the legal profession.

Ryan did not respond to Open Justice’s request for comment on today’s hearing.

The charge follows two police raids on Bird, one in 2019 and another in 2021 while he was out on bail for the previous offence.

Both searches recovered tens of thousands of dollars, large quantities of P and cannabis, and chemicals and equipment needed to manufacture methamphetamine.