Lawyer Donna Hall’s Lower Hutt-based firm Woodward Law has been dismissed by the Maori Council from handling its Trans-Pacific Partnership claim.
The executive of the Maori Council met on July 28 and resolved to dismiss Hall’s law firm from acting on one of its claims
Wellington lawyer Hall is the wife of council co-chairman Sir Eddie Durie, a former High Court judge and Waitangi Tribunal chairman.
In most organisations the wife of an officer would be ineligible to act as a lawyer for the organisation. A clear conflict of interest.
An email from the council’s co-chairman Maanu Paul to Hall last Friday states that Woodward Law, of which Hall is the principal, was fired by the council’s executive committee last week from working on its TPP claim.
Hall is denying all allegations, saying the meeting had “no formal standing”, as the executive committee was “acting as a caretaker only” pending council elections.
In other words she is ignoring it.
The Maori Council is working on a claim to the Waitangi Tribunal, saying an urgent inquiry is needed into the TPP trade agreement because it could jeopardise Treaty rights.
According to Maori Council minutes from July 28, disclosed to Fairfax Media, Woodward Law is alleged to have filed the claims on behalf of the council, but without its knowledge.
So the claim is not from the Maori Council. It was made without their knowledge. So who is funding the claim? I suspect taxpayers ultimately are.
This move had to be approved retrospectively and was done under the proviso that another lawyer, Kathy Ertel, also worked on the claim.
But on July 24, Woodward Law circulated a note saying one of its own lawyers, Peter Andrews, would work on the TPP claim.
The minutes suggest Ertel was never approached by Woodward Law to work on the claim, in what is described as representing a “clear breach of the directives given to Woodward Law”.
It was resolved to dismiss Woodward Law from the TPP claim and hand it to Ertel.
It was also resolved that, if there was evidence Woodward Law was “undermining the mana” of the council, a complaint would be made to the New Zealand Law Society.
In a statement, Hall said: “The ‘minute’ … contains serious defamatory allegations. They are denied. Many of the allegations are easily shown to be false from contemporaneous documentation.”
If they are true, it suggests that the Maori Council is subservient to Donna Hall’s law firm, rather than the other way around.
The minutes also suggest there was also a potential conflict of interest when Durie, as Hall’s husband, got Woodward Law to file an application in the High Court in 2014 to give him a second term as Maori Trustee on the Crown Forestry Rental Trust board.
This was made without the knowledge of Paul or the executive committee, the minutes allege.
“In other words [Durie] instructed his wife to file an application to put himself back on the CFRT Board without bringing the matter to the executive. Had he done so, and resiled from voting, the conflict could have been dealt with appropriately.”
What is shocking here is that Durie is a fomer judge, and should know better.