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Lawyer Convicted Of Theft Appeals Prison Sentence

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Wellington, Oct 16 NZPA - A Christchurch lawyer who took $83,700 from an elderly widow's trust account has appealed his 10 month jail term and is seeking a switch to home detention.

In 1999 Leuatea Peseta Iosefa had been struggling after the death of his mother, the construction of a family home and having received an Inland Revenue bankruptcy notice.

He had access to the then 79-year-old woman's account through his business and over six months dipped into her funds on eight occasions.

At Christchurch District Court in August Iosefa was sentenced to 10 months' jail and ordered to pay reparations of $31,664 for interest on the woman's accounts, having already repaid the stolen cash.

The judge said as he had shown no remorse for his actions and continued to insist he was just borrowing the money only a stint in prison would serve as sufficient punishment.

At the Court of Appeal in Wellington today Iosefa's lawyer, Jonathan Eaton, said his client had been too proud to ask for help and this had been compounded by his high standing within the Samoan community.

He suggested the judge had been "insensitive" to Iosefa's desperate circumstances and his having stolen from an elderly woman "was what really wound the judge up".

Mr Eaton said lawyers found guilty of dishonesty offences where the sentence was less than two years were always given leave to apply for home detention.

The consequences for convicted lawyers were severe and as they were invariably struck off they posed no risk of reoffending.

"Your career goes, your source of income goes, and the stigma of being a convicted lawyer is significant. You lose everything."

Justice John Fogarty said the public perception was that lawyers caught breaking the law were being sentenced to jail.

He said in some of the cases Mr Eaton cited to back up his point, even he had believed the convicted lawyers had served their time in prison.

"And then this (home detention) is happening under the radar."

Crown counsel Gregor Allan said the judge had been well aware of the additional woes suffered by Iosefa following his exposure and had made mention of this fact during his sentencing.

Mr Allan pointed out that Iosefa had already been granted a nearly 50 percent discount on his sentence due to the circumstances which drove him to steal.

He said the public needed to be confident there were adequate deterrents in place to dissuade lawyers from abusing their position and the judge had considered this in reaching his decision.

The court reserved its decision.

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