Solicitor General David Collins
The story unfolding of New Zealand Solicitor General David Collins is far from unique; An ambitious lawyer of rising influence who reaches the pinnacle of power only to succumb to the corrupting effect of power and the air of invincibility which ultimately prompts his fall from grace.
The difference in Collins’ case is that he has the unqualified support of NZ Judges who care little beyond the fact he is a staunch defender of their limitless powers and lack of oversight, as well as privy to many of their questionable pasts and shortcomings. Call him a double threat. The diminutive Collins is a force to be reckoned with given the unbridled powers he yields so freely.
Three unrelated complaints detailing Collins’ legal misconduct now lay before the Legal Complaints Review Officer – a new Crown position created by the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006. Each of the complaints is an appeal of dismissals by the New Zealand Law Society.
Two of the three complaints contain uncontested evidence that Collins has committed a crime as defined by s111-116 of the Crimes Act and he could be subject to 3 years prison if charged and convicted. As to the third, Collins has raised the defence that he found a lawyer who concurred with his approach.
One of the three complaints is by the publisher of this website. That complaint concerns a High Court prosecution by David Collins in 2008 claiming this website breached an interim court gag injunction. It did not. This issue is the subject of a Supreme Court hearing set for 2 March 2010. The evidence shows Collins’ intent had little to do with the injunction but was designed to shut down this website because he alone considered it “defamatory of judges”. No ruling. No allegations other than Collins’ considered – and pointedly unlawful – personal conclusion. Unfortunately for Collins, Crown Law had earlier agreed this website was ‘fully compliant’. Collins, acting on behalf of the State, still prosecuted the publisher over what had been a civil proceeding between two private parties. Acting on Collins lead, the High Court judges – what the Court called a “full bench” – ordered this site be “unconditionally closed down”. Yes, the entire site. The publisher refused and went to prison as a result. These Judges’ gratuitous findings and Collins’ sanctimonious claim to be the object of a conspiracy concocted by the various complainants form the basis of Collins’ defence that he did not commit a breach of criminal law or professional ethics in knowingly prosecuting a false allegation.
At the ‘case to answer’ hearing last Thursday, LCRO Duncan Webb put it to publisher Vince Siemer why he ought not dismiss the complaint on the grounds the Court upheld Collins’ allegations – the grounds NZLS used to dismiss it. Mr Siemer responded that it was no answer to say the deception was successful. If this were the threshold, no one could be convicted of successful perjury. He submitted the evidence stands on its own and that Collins failed to minimally respond to this evidence – or the NZLS to address it.
It would be easy, if Siemer was the biggest of Collins’ problems. Former MP Ian Ewen-Street and Horowhenua Councillor Anne Hunt also have active complaints before the LCRO regarding Collins. The complaint of Ewen-Street concerns Collins demanding his partner Sue Grey’s dismissal from her job at the Department of Conservation because she sought to expose judicial misconduct by Supreme Court Justice Bill Wilson when Wilson sat on a case before the Court of Appeal. We all know how these allegations turned out. That the NZLS sought to cling to Collins’ abstract claims and subterfuge when dismissing this complaint stands as an embarrassment for New Zealand and lawyers in general. Ultimately the NZLS added dismissal was warranted because Ewen-Street was not the aggrieved party and the Court did not concur with the assessment detailed in his complaint (notwithstanding Collins’ conduct was not the subject of a court ruling).
LCRO Duncan Webb, at least, has pulled his head in on this complaint and turned the matter over to his deputy for a ruling. Webb was a Legal Ethics professor at Canterbury University when this sordid melee started. He was one of several legal experts who purportedly disagreed with Collins’ legal claims which are central to the allegations now before the LCRO. As a Crown employee now, Webb is expected to well and truly hide in the shadows to give Collins a better chance.
Collins’ detailed misconduct in the Anne Hunt complaint is as extensive as it is reprehensible. Collins claimed to the Court not to have vetted a book manuscript which turned out to have breached a court suppression order. That is until Ms Hunt produced the finished manuscript with Collins’ handwritten notations all over it. Some would say Collins was forced into a position to lie: he was the lawyer in the case and, therefore, could not plausibly claim ignorance of the order. Still, Collins audaciously swore an affidavit to the Court in May 2007 suggesting Ms Hunt had written the letter which encouraged her to write on the subject of the suppression order – even though the letter in question was signed by him and on his letterhead. In all, Collins’ statements to the Court included 19 discrepancies with the circumstantial evidence.
At her contempt of court appeal hearing, Ms Hunt’s lawyer Steven Price expressed to the Court the dilemma of calling the Solicitor General as a witness when it was apparent Collins would likely contradict the evidence: “The areas of discrepancy and credibility discussed above help explain why the appellant chose not to call Dr Collins as a witness. She did not have confidence in the reliability of his evidence. … Why should a civil litigant be obliged to call a witness she believes to be unreliable and hostile, when she can give direct evidence herself of what happened, amply supported by documentation – particularly when that witness has made it clear that he is available to be called by the other side?”
Consequently, Collins was never challenged on the veracity of his court brief and affidavit in Ms Hunt’s contempt trial. In that trial Wellington High Court Judge John Wild, whose judicial credentials can be summed up as “my daddy was a New Zealand chief justice”, had fallen over backward to protect Collins from himself. Even though Collins successfully avoided appearing as a witness, Wild J relied heavily on Collins’ affidavit and brief as if they had been passed to him etched on stone tablets. In stark contrast Wild J classified the evidence of Collins’ criminal deception of the Court as ‘hearsay’, ostensibly because Ms Hunt was not prepared to call Collins as a witness because she believed he would commit perjury.
In dismissing her complaint, the NZLS relied heavily on Judge Wild’s patronising dribble, sought to hide behind every nuance of certain words used in Ms Hunt’s complaint when it suited Collins, claimed that statute of limitations prohibited them from considering some elements and dissected the complaint into so many sub-categories that it was almost unrecognizable. As the third complaint against him to go to the LCRO in as many months, Collins tried quickly to pre-empt this one the same day the NZLS dismissed it by sending Ms Hunt a handwritten note asking her to meet with him. Ethics? Those are for honest lawyers.
Even if the New Zealand judges and the Law Society sycophants do not seem to mind, Collins’ criminal deception of the Court is catching up with him. People forget that Taito Phillip-Field’s greatest offence was his lying and cover-up of the immigrants who did work for him – not the offence of actually exploiting them. Australia Judge Marcus Einfeld too was sentenced to prison not because of the AUD$77 speeding ticket he received but because he claimed under oath a dead woman was driving his car. Given Collins’ reckless disregard for the truth and lack of personal respect for the laws which he has taken an oath to uphold, it is only a matter of time before he seals his own fate