A criminal barrister with a chequered past has found redemption as a duty lawyer in Auckland’s toughest courts.
Brett Dean Ravelich once misled a police officer and sent threatening Christmas cards to an ex-friend. He escaped being struck off for that misconduct in a penalty hearing of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal before Judge Dale Clarkson.
But the lawyer, described in Clarkson’s July decision as having a “somewhat tortured history”, must pay more than $20,000 in costs for disciplinary matters.
Ravelich, who declined to be interviewed, has had a rocky path to atonement.
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He faced four charges at a 2019 hearing of the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal, also chaired by Clarkson.
The tribunal’s January 2020 decision found three of the charges proved but dismissed the other, which alleged conflicting business interests related to his involvement with a night club on Auckland’s Karangahape (K) Rd.
The long path leading to the misconduct charge began in 2005.
Papakura District Court, where Ravelich now regularly works as a duty lawyer.
Ravelich was struggling at the time amid allegations made by the Legal Services Agency and had befriended a man named in the judgment as Mr M.
The barrister was barred in 2010 from providing legal aid services but said he eventually obtained an apology and a $39,000 refund from the agency, which he said corrected the allegations.
That same year, he opened a bar with M.
But things went south and their disagreement sparked a seven-year legal battle.
The Auckland Standards Committee alleged Ravelich repeatedly harassed M, now aged in his mid-80s.
Counsel for the committee, Paul Collins, said the harassment included “menacing” Christmas cards, sent in 2014 and 2015, and a visit to M’s home.
The tribunal said Ravelich’s conduct was “intimidating and reprehensible”.
Two misleading statements to the Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority and one to a police constable were the basis for the two proven charges of unsatisfactory conduct.
They were made during a period when Ravelich was in dire financial straits.
He held a practising certificate as a barrister and simultaneously worked at Le Box nightclub on K Rd.
The tribunal found he was unable to provide a satisfactory explanation for the misleading statements, aside from describing his chaotic lifestyle at the time.
“I was living in a suitcase, I had no computer, I was using an internet cafe downstairs to try and work,” he told the tribunal.
By the time of the penalty hearing in June, things were looking up for the barrister, who now relishes his work as a duty lawyer in south Auckland.
Because his previous offending was connected to his alcoholism, the tribunal sought assurances on how he planned to manage his addictions.
The Pukekohe and Papkura District Courts were described in the judgment as busy, challenging and requiring lawyers prepared to carry out high quality representation on behalf of their clients.
He proved his enrolment in a Community Alcohol and Drug Services (CADS) program and has committed to a life of sobriety.
Experienced Pukekohe lawyer Megan Jenkins has agreed to act as his mentor and meet him once a month to discuss his commitment to sobriety.
“Ms Jenkins confirms that Mr Ravelich is a valued member of the duty lawyer team in south Auckland and other lawyers have also commented on his ‘thoughtful and considerate’ approach to clients, his ability to tackle difficult cases, his punctuality, attention to detail, work ethic, courtesy and high quality service,” the judgment said.
The tribunal agreed with Collins that a censure, including a final warning, must be handed down to Ravelich.
“We accept that the conduct occurred at a time in your life when you were at a low ebb and that that was not necessarily of your making,” the judgment said.
“However, you have now re-established yourself and the tribunal does not expect to see you return before it again.
“Should further professional or personal lapses bring you back before the tribunal you must expect that this will result in a restriction on, or ending of, your ability to practice as a lawyer.”
Ravelich was censured and ordered to pay $20,000 in costs to the Auckland Standards Committee, plus $8353 in reimbursement to the Law Society for the tribunal’s costs.