Saturday, 20 April 2013

Opinion: Are some Family Court Lawyers thick, or simply negligent?

Over the last week or so, I have received a fair bit of media attention regarding bullying. The context of the recent debate has centred on anti-bullying campaigns in schools, however events of the last week have bought another aspect of this debate into sharp focus: the bullying behaviour of Family Court Lawyers upon families, under the vacuous guise of “best interest of the child”.
For the past 14 years, I have worked in a number of various Social Service roles (the last 10 in Private Practice as a Counsellor and Family Mediator) and I have had numerous dealings with Lawyers. I even count Lawyers among my own clients (along with accountants, chefs, high profile individuals, and just about any other profession one may care to name), so it would be fair to say that I am not “anti-lawyers”, or even anti-the legal profession.
However, in my experience, I have observed some Family Court Lawyers to be a sub-culture of the New Zealand legal profession, an almost feral breed of people who seem oblivious to the damage they can (and do) visit upon vulnerable families and children, via their own self-imposed ignorance and corporate and collegial arrogance.
I have at times wondered if some Family Court Lawyers were the post-prof Law graduates who were not quite sharp enough for Commercial Law, yet not quite brave enough for Criminal Law. Family Court Law seems to be an environment where accusation trumps evidence and ego trumps wisdom.
In my experience and observation over the last 10 years, some Court reports on children in particular are often half-baked documents composed by disinterested Counsel for Child, who can’t seem to be bothered conducting any sort of meaningful investigation that would qualify as “due diligence”. Any attempt to hold these legal-aid enabled  ”ticket clippers” to account results in them spitting like lacklustre cobras at anyone who tries to do so.
In the absence of due process, evidence, or any meaningful industry accountability, I have observed some Family Court Lawyers make absolutely preposterous claims about family members in the defence of their clients. It almost seems as if the truth is whatever some Family Court Lawyers interpret the truth to be, as opposed to being informed by what the truth actually is.
Long story short – in my observation and experience of what I term only loosely as their “profession”, some Family Court Lawyers seem to simply “make stuff up” as they go when they are representing clients, and the Family Court seems to let them do so.
One Family Court Lawyer in particular comprehensively illustrates a number of aspects of the above  synopsis, and is a Lawyer with which I have had recent personal experience,  North Shore Barrister Rebecca Holm.
Holm was recently appointed as Counsel for Child for a family that I have worked with for the past 18 months. Without going into any detail that may inadvertently identify the family, Holm had reportedly met on two occasions with the child in the family, and on the basis of these two meetings (and a reported one-off phone conversation with three other family members), wrote a report to the Family Court, and included a number of recommendations as to how the Court should proceed with this case.
Included in the report were a number of claims regarding my work with the family – a total of 6 claims in fact, every single one of them false. Prior to Holm filing the report to the Court, at no time did Holm think that it might be prudent to contact me to discuss any of the points she raised in the Report about my work with the family - she simply accepted what was nothing more than Hearsay from other parties, treated the Hearsay as fact, failed to check and / or validate any of this information with a core source of the information (me) and forwarded the report  to the Court.
On learning this somewhat puzzling fact, I made independent contact with Holm to give her an opportunity to procure a much fuller picture of the facts of the case at hand (a picture I had gleaned over 18 months), a picture Holm couldn’t possibly have had after 2 short meetings with the child, and to address some of the issues Holm had raised about my role with the family, information she hadn’t actually verified with me.
Holm responded with a dismissive one line email: “No, I do not have any interest in discussing your views of this case with you”.
After pausing to consider this rather rude and intemperate response to what I believed was an entirely legitimate approach by me to ensure that a full due diligence was conducted in the case, I emailed Holm about some pertinent issues of the case that she was clearly ignorant of, and I believed needed to not be ignorant of, if Holm was to meaningfully carry out her role in the best interests of the child. I acknowledged to Holm that she did not want to discuss the issues with me, and assumed that I would hear no more from her.
However, I then received this email in reply:
I do not wish to receive correspondence from you.  Your communication is unwanted.  Further communication will be deemed spam and harassment.  Your address has been added to my blocked addresses.  If your communication is directed by (Client) they should be made aware of the court’s ability to make parties pay for lawyer for the child’s costs.
Rebecca Holm was clearly agitated in her response to me - as one perhaps would be if they had discovered that the report that they had written to the Family Court was deficient in a number of key areas, deficiencies that could have been quickly addressed by one simple phone call to a person who had an intimate and detailed knowledge of the case – namely me. Already in clear breach of the Privacy Act (failing to ascertain the veracity of acclaimed information about another party), Holm then defaulted into the “bully” role so commonly recognised within the adversarial legal system, simply because another professional more qualified than Holm in working with families in crisis was daring to question her efforts (or lack of) to secure all of the relevant information about the family, and to then act in the actual best interests of the child. Holm not only threatened and attempted to bully me (never a smart move), but she also threatened and attempted to bully my client, who had precisely no idea that I had made contact with Holm in my own capacity.
What happened next though beggared belief. In her failed attempt to compose a threatening email response to me, Rebecca Holm had copied her response to me to another Lawyer who was acting for the Applicant to the case (my client is the Respondent), and included my confidential correspondence to Holm in her forward to the Applicants Lawyer as well. Such an act (according to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner) is a serious breach of Confidentiality, both mine and my clients, and another breach of the Privacy Act. As a third party lay-person to the case who will be assisting my client as a “McKenzie Friend” in Court, I am entitled to have any and all correspondence to Holm treated as confidential under “Litigation Privilege” and it would appear that Holm is ignorant of this fact.
After responding to Holm and affirming for her that I was unable to be intimidated by any bully (legal or otherwise) I am now in the process of  filing a formal complaint against Rebecca Holm, Barrister, of the North Shore with the Auckland District Law Society and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner. Holm insists that she has done nothing wrong – that will now be for the complaints process to determine.
However, despite my personal dispute with Holm, there is actually a bigger issue here.
Some Law School GRADUATED Holm, and the Family Court seems to have enough (albeit apparently misplaced) faith in Holm to appoint her as Counsel for Child, when it is clear that Holm is in no way (in my opinion at least) up to the job.
The “due process” Holm has followed in this case (in my opinion) could be regarded by some as being negligent, lazy, incompetent, arrogant, ignorant, and wrong, and which in no way acts in the “best interests of the child”, who is her Family Court-appointed client. There is perhaps a small mercy in the fact that Holm is a Barrister sole.
Sadly, around 48,00 Applications per year are heard in the Family Court in New Zealand – would it be too much for families to ask that those charged with the responsibility of legally representing our most vulnerable citizens apply some depth and a ”thoroughness” to their work, as opposed to going “once over lightly”?
When the familial, physical, emotional, and mental well-being of our children and their families are at risk, one would hope that the answer to this question would be “absolutely not”.
What families and vulnerable children don’t need is bullies with Law Degrees who erroneously believe that they can act with hubristic impunity, simply because they are Officers of the Family Court.
Steve Taylor,
24-7 Ltd
Ph: (021) 259-2506
NB: In the above opinion piece, I have had cause to consider the potential ramifications of naming the Lawyer in the case, and I have contrasted this consideration with my role as an advocate for the family in my role as a Counsellor and Family Mediator. In the balance between these two poles, I have chosen to side with the family. Sunlight has, is, and will always be the best disinfectant.
Hopefully, Rebecca Holm will by now be  aware that her inappropriate bullying actions as Counsel for Child have legitimate consequences and that while many people may simply let Family Court Lawyers such as Holm abuse their authority and attempt to roll right over the top of them, I and the families I assist are not those people.
Holm would now do well to inform her colleagues of this discovery, and they would do well to heed her caution.
UPDATE 13/4/11:
I received an email today from a Mr Steven Dromgool who is the ex-husband of the aforementioned Ms Rebecca Holm.
It seems that Mr Dromgool is very upset about the above opinion piece, which is his unqualified right to be so.
Mr Dromgool has made  3 demands of me in his email, alongside 3 threats if I do not comply with his demands: I have tabulated each of these for ease of comprehension, alongside my responses to Mr Dromgool:
Demand # 1: Delete the content off my blog.
Threat # 1: Mr Dromgool will file a complaint with my Professional Association.
My Response: Professional Associations for Counsellors are voluntary organisations to join, not compulsory. I resigned from both of my Professional Associations at the beginning of this year after many years of membership, owing to what I came to consider as their utter irrelevancy to my Practice. Professional Associations will not consider complaints about Counsellors who are not members of their respective Associations. I will not be deleting the content from my Blog. Strike 1.
Demand # 2: Publish an apology to Ms Rebecca Holm.
Threat # 2: Mr Dromgool will contact one of my clients and tell on me!?
My Response: My clients READ MY BLOG. I will not be publishing an apology to Ms Holm. Strike 2.
Demand # 3: Discuss the above Opinion piece with my Clinical Supervisor.
Threat # 3: Mr Dromgool will contact my Supervisor and tell them about the blog post.
My Response: (Sigh……..). My Clinical Supervisor READS MY BLOG. I am sure that my Clinical Supervisor and I will indeed address my rationale, reasoning, motivation, and decision to write the Opinion Piece in my next Supervision session, and I would be happy to publish the feedback I receive from my Clinical Supervisor, subject to their consent. Mr Dromgool will not be discussing anything with my Supervisor without my consent.  Strike 3 and out.
At the risk of mutual tedium: threatening or attempting to bully me, or my clients, is never, ever a smart move (please see above).
Update 22/11/11:
Oh but this is just hilarious. Lawyer for Child Rebecca Holm, and opposing Council to my client, lawyer Leanne Kenny, were resolute and so utterly convinced that I was evil incarnate for daring to suggest that they both might have their position on this case completely and utterly wrong. Remember that, despite an opportunity provided by me to do so, Rebecca Holm refused to contact me on this case, after it became apparent that she had made no less than 6 significant errors in her Lawyer for Child report to the Family Court. No, instead, Holm and Kenny charged ahead, so supremely confident to the point of hubris, that they were acting “in the best interests of the child”, by allowing the teenager to live with his father and partner.
Turns out that not all is well in “Daddyland”. The father has lost complete control of his teenage son, to the point that holes are being punched in walls by the son, and the fathers partner has threatened to call CYF rather than have the son in the house.
Gets better: the father and partner who both Holm and Kenny advocated for dumped the teenager at his grandparents house for a week, as they couldn’t control him in their house.  Now, neither the partner or the father are talking to the teenager. Way to go Holm and Kenny – another win for the Family Court. Honestly, these two may as well have monkeys throw darts at potential outcomes on the walls of their respective legal practices, for all of the good they have done in this case. In the words of “The Simpsons Nelson Muntz “Har har!”
Update 6/12/11:
This story is becoming the gift that just keeps on giving. The latest? The father, who dragged my client through the Family Court in order to secure primary care, is now pleading with the mother for “a break” from the role of being the primary carer! I don’t believe a “break” was included as a condition in the Parenting Order (yet another oversight by Leanne Kenny and Rebecca Holm), and even if there was, the “father of the year” in this application wouldn’t have permitted one at the time of the application. Yes, it’s official – I really do enjoy being right!
Update 11/12/11:
The father has just kicked the young person out of his home, and, tail between his legs, the Father has now filed a Notification with Child, Youth, and Family relating to his inability to cope with the care of his child. The Father has dumped the child back at the child’s mother, and is now seeking relief from the Parenting Order requirements that he, Leane Kenny, and Rebecca Holm advocated so hard for in the Family Court. When told by his teenage offspring that the Father was “an arsehole”, the Father reportedly replied ‘Yes, yes I am an arsehole, a big arsehole”. Never a truer word spoken in this case.
Update 14/12/11:
And the epic fail of the Lawyers in this case is now complete: the father has just advised in writing that he is relinquishing his fulltime care. Best interests of the child? Robust legal process? Due diligence? Competent representation? No, no, no, and no. I am now going to send this story to the Ministry of Justice Family Court Review, and my media database.

This isn't the post I had coming. I just thought everyone might enjoy some light reading!
But isn't it wonderful when the lawyers in the Family Court get it so WRONG! This is an every day event in the Family Court. ohh and Stuart Peggs is feeling all alone, let me help you with that. Helen, Matthew and Dargma???? (seriously) Polson are children of a Child for Counsel David Polson and wife Lauris.

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