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Witness tells disciplinary hearing into ex-Russell McVeagh partner he regrets not stepping in sooner

A former colleague of a top lawyer accused of sexual misconduct has said he wished he had called one of the alleged victims a taxi or taken her home, after witnessing the pair kissing.

Source: Te Karere

The event happened after the 2015 Christmas party, where four summer clerks allege they were each sexually assaulted or harassed by the same man at different times during the evening.

The former colleague, who has name suppression, detailed the events of another Christmas event held for Russell McVeagh employees later that year.

There was a barbecue held at the man at the centre of the allegation’s home for team members and their partners.

The witness told the tribunal he saw the former law firm partner kissing one of his summer clerks inside a sauna at the house, while his wife was upstairs sleeping.

“It made me angry. I stood up and shouted something like, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ and then left,” he said.

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Two women described their fear of the man and described feeling manipulated by him. Source: 1 NEWS

“I really should’ve put her in a taxi or made sure she got home OK. I was so angry at the time and also drunk so it didn’t occur to me.”

He said the fact he didn’t do anything that night, or speak to someone about the behaviour sooner, “weighs on my mind”.

The man at the centre of the allegations has acknowledged the sauna incident happened.

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The witness also attended the 2015 Christmas party where four summer clerks allege they were sexually assaulted or harassed.

He told the tribunal he never saw the man at the centre of the allegations act abusively towards women and also had never witnessed anything that appeared non-consensual.

He also said he didn’t notice the man dancing with women individually at the Christmas party for the firm, and was shocked to hear the allegations made by the four summer clerks.

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The man made inappropriate comments while under the influence of alcohol. Source: 1 NEWS

“At worst, I would describe him as opportunistic,” he said during cross-examination when defence lawyer Julian Long asked him if he thought the practitioner was a "sex pest" or "a creep", using dancing to mask his tendencies.

A large part of the defence’s questioning surrounds the man’s dancing and it being misconstrued by the complainants as intentional groping.

Long asked the witness if he’d describe the practitioner’s dancing as "energetic", which the witness agreed with.

He noted the man at the centre of the allegations wasn’t allowed into a nightclub after the Christmas party because he was too drunk.

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It’s now put the spotlight on the whole legal profession and other industries. Source: 1 NEWS

DRINKING HABITS

The witness frequently referred to the man’s drinking habits, along with the wider drinking culture at the firm at the time the alleged offending happened.

He said the man was “famous” for how much alcohol he could consume, and that when the man was drunk he was a different person.

The man at the centre of the allegations was, however, good to work for and was more nurturing than other partners, according to the witness.

They also noted there were some women who did not feel part of the former partner’s team while working for him at Russell McVeagh.

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It found a culture involving “excessive drinking” and at times “sexually inappropriate behaviour”. Source: 1 NEWS

He also mentioned there was a culture of making inappropriate comments and the use of double entendres to hide comments that were sexual.

The witness said that the comments were sexual jokes, rather than sexist remarks directed at people specifically, and therefore weren’t necessarily sexist.

Tribunal member the Honorable Paul Heath QC asked the witness to expand on the word "laddish", which the man had used a number of times when giving evidence.

The witness said when he used the term, he was referring to “after hours chat” when there were comments made about people’s attractiveness, alcohol was consumed, and there was play fighting.

Prior to the former partner’s exit interview, the witness created a list of things he thought should be addressed with the man.

They singled out things that shouldn’t have been happening in a work place or with colleagues, the details of which are suppressed.

The man at the centre of the allegations is due to respond to the allegations and give his own evidence later this week.

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 is expected to last until Friday.