The lawyer for a former partner at one of the country’s top law firms Russell McVeagh has told a woman who claims he sexually assaulted her “I don’t think you need to be scared of him,” on the second day of a disciplinary hearing into the man’s alleged sexual misconduct.
He told her he didn’t want to minimise her experience by “doing his job” of cross-examining her and that the man at the centre of multiple allegations is sorry for the impact his actions have had on her.
Speaking behind a screen, the woman has told the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyances Disciplinary Tribunal she feared for her safety when he came up behind her and groped her buttocks on the dancefloor.
She says he then moved his hands up to her waist, finally resting his hands on one of her breasts which he caressed “for a few seconds”.
The woman was a summer clerk at Russell McVeagh during 2015 and 2016, and is one of four complainants alleging the man sexually assaulted and harassed them at a Christmas party in 2015.
She said she didn’t say anything to the man at the time of the alleged assault because she feared for her safety.
“I thought: this person is a predator, therefore I’d be unsafe.”
She said before that evening she thought of the man as the “funny drinker” but now thought of him as “an animal”, and has been in counselling for years since the alleged offending.
She also told the Tribunal she suffered from trust issues and had to take tranquilisers in her first year at another law firm as she was working with another male partner.
The practitioner’s defence lawyer pressed the woman on the details of the alleged assault and also questioned how she knew it was the man she was accusing.
The lawyer read out two statements made by the woman which used different words to describe the action – changing between "grabbing" and "caressing".
The lawyer said there were important differences between the two words.
The woman then had to describe in detail how the man grabbed her bottom, put his hands around her waist, then groped her breast, with the defence lawyer asking the woman if she remembers which of the man’s hands had groped her more than five years after the alleged assault happened.
She also said how she looked to her side to figure out who was touching her, but said she was able to work it out before seeing his face because of his stature.
Members of the Tribunal asked if the line of questioning was necessary, moving to confirm the fact the woman felt inappropriate touching while on the dance floor.
She is the third complainant the Tribunal has heard from so far, and the first to claim members of Russell McVeagh’s human resources team were also at the party that night.
A fourth complainant also gave evidence to the Tribunal today, and detailed how she felt engulfed by the practitioner when he approached her at the same party and wrapped his arm around her.
She claims he placed one of his hands at the top of her bottom, very low on her back, and holding it there for a few seconds.
“I remember it happening, thinking this is not accidental because it’s still there,” she said about the man’s hand.
She then alleges the man leaned in and kissed her on the cheek, which she says left her completely shocked as there were so many people present at the Christmas party.
The fourth woman described the incident as "disgusting" and "gross".
“I am confident [the man] did not know my name at the time, to him I was just a piece of meat,” she said.
The man’s defence lawyer asked the woman “was it just him trying to be fun?” to which the woman replied “no, I have seen flamboyant party behaviour before and I’ve never then been sexually assaulted by that person”.
It’s not known what the relationship between the four women are, but it is known that they all spoke to one another about their individual experiences on that evening with the practitioner.
All four have also described the man as intoxicated that evening, while giving evidence separately.
The man’s name, and those of the complainants and witnesses, are suppressed.
He’s before the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal facing seven charges of misconduct, or unsatisfactory conduct.
The hearing continues this afternoon and is expected to last until Friday this week.