Lawyer suspended for 12 months after relationship with prisoner

Author
NZ Herald ,
Publish Date
Fri, 11 Jun 2021, 8:11AM
The lawyer accepted responsibility at a personal level for her actions. (Photo / NZ Herald)
The lawyer accepted responsibility at a personal level for her actions. (Photo / NZ Herald)

Lawyer suspended for 12 months after relationship with prisoner

Author
NZ Herald ,
Publish Date
Fri, 11 Jun 2021, 8:11AM

A lawyer has been suspended from the profession for 12 months for a secret six-day relationship with a prisoner.

Debbie Paulson Wilson was also ordered to pay $7000 in costs by the Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal, who said the "brief, but clandestine" relationship was at the serious end of the misconduct spectrum.

Wilson was employed as a barrister and met with the prisoner to discuss the possibility of an appeal.

She took the details of the meeting back to her boss, who decided there were no grounds for an appeal because there was no fresh evidence.

The employer told Wilson to advise the prisoner they could no longer help him.

Wilson and the prisoner continued to interact for six days, over the phone and through Instagram, with Wilson at one point assuming the pseudonym "Lucy Pance" to deceive prison authorities into being approved a "social contact" for phone calls with the prisoner.

The prisoner also requested Wilson's phone number be approved as a legal contact, while Wilson falsely told prison authorities she was researching the prisoner's appeal, and agreed her number be approved.

During the phone calls, which were recorded, the pair discussed the possibility of sexual contact and the possibility of Wilson bringing chocolate and pens for the prisoner at their next meeting.

They also discussed a plan to pretend to Wilson's employer that a fellow prisoner needed to see a lawyer in person, creating an opportunity for her to visit the prison again.

"We have no hesitation in declaring this conduct to be at the serious end of the misconduct spectrum," the tribunal said.

Prison authorities provided reports of these conversations to Wilson's employer, and she was suspended and then dismissed for serious misconduct.

Wilson argued for a three-month suspension, while the Standards Committee sought a 12-month stand down.

The tribunal opted for the latter and ordered her to pay $7000 in costs to the Standard Committee.