Russell McVeagh abuse report due out today

Hints of “shocking abusive bullying” and “abuses of power” seem to have leaked out in advance of the review of alleged sexual abuse and abuse of power at Russell McVeagh.

RNZ: Russell McVeagh review details to be released today

RNZ understands the review details incidents of “shocking abusive bullying” and “abuses of power”.

Partners at the firm have been walked through the findings in a fraught meeting with Dame Margaret Bazely, with some left in tears.

The review is looking into the sexual harassment claims of 2015/2016 and the firm’s response, any other sexual harassment claims or any other improper conduct and the firm’s response to those claims, the firm’s standards, systems and policies relating to the management of staff, the firm’s implementation of those policies and whether they adequately safeguard staff from sexual harassment and the culture of the firm.

The review will be made public at 10am. Following the release, Dame Margaret Bazely will brief Russell McVeagh staff.

RNZ details the background to revelations being released:

  • On 14 February, Newsroom published a story detailing three sexual assault complaints involving interns and two older male lawyers at leading law firm Russell McVeagh. It was reported the incidents took place two years ago. That summer there were ten clerks on the summer intern programme. Five of the clerks were female and they declined full-time job offers from the firm after the programme.
  • In the following days, Victoria University confirmed several of its students on internships at Russell McVeagh reported being sexually assaulted by lawyers. The police were involved but no charges resulted.
  • At the time, Russell McVeagh senior partner Pip Greenwood said the firm’s board was aware of the allegationsand conducted an internal investigation. The men involved no longer work at the company, she said.
  • Just over a week after the initial story broke, new allegations were made of inappropriate sexual conduct between university students and senior lawyers at Russell McVeagh. In a social media post, AUT law lecturer Khylee Quince said the Auckland University students described an evening where there was heavy drinking between students and lawyers, leading to sex on a boardroom table.
  • At the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s annual review in late February, National MP Melissa Lee raised questions over the government’s continued use of Russell McVeagh.

If the pre-release reports are accurate it sounds like tough times for Russell McVeagh.

At least it appears to be being addressed, so some good may come out of this if it is dealt with properly by the law firm.

Newsroom also pre-empt the release of the report: Four things the Russell McVeagh review must address

Questions have been raised about when Russell McVeagh knew and responded to allegations ranging from sexual assault to rape by five summer interns. The claims relate to at least two incidents and involved two lawyers employed by the firm at the time. Bazley has been tasked with reviewing and giving recommendations relating to the allegations, plus Russell McVeagh’s policies around sexual harassment and the wider culture of the firm.

The main things Bazley’s report must address:

  1. How Russell McVeagh handled the complaints
    Russell McVeagh has ensured the review is independent, but there is no indication whether Bazley has been given full and complete access to all of the firm’s records.
  2. Reference for one of the men involved
    One of the lawyers went on to work at Duncan Cotterill, the other went on to share an office with other lawyers.Duncan Cotterill said it had no idea of the allegations at the time the man was hired. Duncan Cotterill said it was led to believe by a reference check that the incident was minor.
  3. Continuing to use one of the men for legal work 
    One of the men was receiving Russell McVeagh work once he left the firm. Russell McVeagh told Newsroom it was ethically obliged to keep him on a case, even though the law firm had to ban female staff from working on that account and bar the former senior staffer from attending meetings at its office.
  4. Why Russell McVeagh did not inform the Law Society 
    The Law Society was first informed of the claims in October 2016 when one of the women told the society, almost 10 months after the incidents. The firm’s partners may have breached their legal obligations under the Lawyers Conduct and Client Care Rules by failing to report the alleged misconduct immediately.

We may or may not get answers to these questions today.

Russell McVeagh appoints investigator into sexual misconduct claims and admissions

Russell McVeagh have appointed Dame Margaret Bazley to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct within the law firm. Newsroom are continuing to put pressure on the issue.

RNZ: Dame Margaret Bazley to head Russell McVeagh review

Dame Margaret Bazley will lead the external review of allegations of sexual misconduct at law firm Russell McVeagh.

The firm – which provides legal services to the government – is in the spotlight over serious allegations of sexual misconduct levelled at two senior lawyers at its Wellington office, and separate revelations of alcohol-fuelled sex in a boardroom.

Those allegations and the firm’s response will be reviewed, as well as any other claims, and its culture and policies regarding sexual harassment.

Russell McVeagh chair Malcolm Crotty said women subjected to sexual harassment, as well as current staff and partners, wanted to be assured the review would be thorough.

“We think that Dame Margaret’s significant review into police conduct and culture resulting from the Louise Nicholas case will provide that assurance,” he said.

She will be assisted by a woman lawyer whose appointment will be announced shortly.

Pip Greenwood, a senior partner at Russell McVeagh, said the firm was “truly sorry and horrified” that the sexual harassment had occurred.

They admit that harassment has occurred.

“We are committed to ensuring that such incidents do not happen again. We are extremely grateful to Dame Margaret for agreeing to conduct this review. We have been conscious, in making this appointment, to appoint a person who is truly independent as well as who has experience in such work.”

Newsroom is continuing their pressure: Bazley to head inquiry into ‘sexual harassment’

The allegations are far from what is commonly understood as sexual harassment. They include complaints of sexual violation, including rape.

The firm’s announcement also reveals Dame Margaret’s report on the firm’s handling of the 2015/16 scandal and other “improper conduct” will not be made public. It will instead be shared with “stakeholders”, the Law Society and the law schools of the country’s universities.

So how will the public know that this isn’t another sweeping under the legal rug?

Russell McVeagh not only has a responsibility to deal properly with any proven harassment and sexual assault, they have a responsibility to the (presumed) majority of lawyers who are not involved and not guilty.

Otherwise the firm and the profession will retain a general taint.

Newsroom has been told Russell McVeagh’s portrayal today of the assaults and misconduct during the summer clerk programme as “sexual harassment” has gone down poorly among women closely connected to the case.

One former Russell McVeagh lawyer said: “This review is getting off on the wrong foot because it is minimising, from the outset, the gravity and nature of the alleged offending against the summer clerks. It confirms my scepticism that this review is just another window-dressing exercise.”

If it is kept secret then it will easily be construed as window-dressing.

Russell McVeagh lawyers who knew of complaints from the summer clerks of sexual assaults did not refer the matter to the Law Society, as required under its rules. The Society only learned of the accusations against two male lawyers from the firm when a woman concerned raised them with it between eight and nine months after the incidents.

If they broke Law Society rules that at least should be addressed properly and openly.

The firm conducted its own inquiry, let the two men leave its Wellington office with at least one continuing on Russell McVeagh client work, and changed its summer clerk programme with new rules over alcohol and treatment of women.

So they took some action, but under cover. Should they have referred any incidents to the police? Or did they improperly protect perpetrators and the company’s reputation?  The public should have confidence that things were done properly, or will be done properly to correct past cover-ups.

In the course of inquiries into Russell McVeagh’s handling of the summer clerk programme allegations, Newsroom has been informed of incidents involving eight male staffers accused of sexual misconduct, harassment or inappropriate behaviour to staff. Some have left the firm.

The incidents date from 2000, and some involve senior lawyers. Five allegations date from the past five years. The incidents, by year, are in the graphic above.

While the firm’s terms of reference – or scope – for Dame Margaret specify the incidents in 2015/16 and its aftermath, she should have scope to inquire into these further incidents under its second term “any other improper conduct that may be brought to the attention of the external reviewer and the firm’s response to those claims.”

Her inquiry into the sexual assaults by police against Rotorua woman Louise Nicholas took three years from 2004 to complete and report.

A proper investigation will take time, but time can defuse the public glare.

Dame Margaret is regarded as a thorough and exacting inquisitor. She will be helped on this Russell McVeagh review by an un-named woman lawyer.

She is a good choice, but will the public know she has investigated well and covered this thoroughly?

It is likely to be proper that some information remain private/secret, there may be very personal revelations, and also differences of claims and perceptions between accusers and accused, so due process is important.

But Russell McVeagh has admitted “the incidents of sexual harassment that have occurred at our firm have had a profound effect on the women involved and we are all truly sorry and horrified that they occurred.”

Unless this is public clarified and properly addressed the law firm reputation and all their lawyers will remain under a cloud of suspicion. The company has:

  • 36 partners
  • 8 special counsels
  • 20 senior associates
  • 6 company managers plus a Chief Executive Officer
  • junior lawyers and staff.

They owe it to victims, to the public, and to all of those staff who are not involved in any harassment or law breaking, and to the legal profession, to come clean.

 

Police “not tolerating bad behaviour any more” (sexual assaults)

RNZ reports in ‘They’re not tolerating bad behaviour any more’:

A decade of independent scrutiny of how police treat sexual assault victims and how they investigate their own officers is about to end.

Ten years ago today a Commission of Inquiry led by Dame Margaret Bazley released a scathing report describing disgraceful conduct by officers over 25 years and a wall of silence protecting the men that women complained about.

The inquiry investigated historic sexual assault claims and misconduct from 1979 to 2004.

In 2007, Dame Margaret released her findings which pointed to systemic issues, evidence of disgraceful misconduct and a culture of scepticism around reported sexual assaults.

The case of Louise Nicholas prompted the Commission of Inquiry to be established in 2004.

Louise Nicholas vividly remembers how fearful she was, the day her story was made public on 1 January 2004.

“In talking with [journalist] Phil Kitchin, in putting the story out there publicly, ‘what am I going to get out of it?’

“And he said, ‘What do you want?’ And I said, ‘I need for the police to acknowledge, to stand up and say, ‘yeah, we’ve got a really, really bad culture and we need to do something about this.’ And Phil said, ‘Well, let’s call for a Commission of Inquiry’ … and that’s how it all got started.

“And then, as fate has it, police decided to investigate my allegations that came through the media.”

She said the investigation was important in enabling victims to come forward.

“The results were of course, acquittals. But, did I get my justice? As I sit here today, abso-bloody-lutely I did.

Mrs Nicholas said how police dealt with sexual assault survivors was the biggest change she wanted to see happen.

She said if her case had happened today, it would have been handled so much better by police.

“I’ve actually seen the change in how police are investigating their own. They’re not tolerating bad behaviour any more. We’ve got coppers out there on the front line actually stepping up and saying, ‘I’m not going to tolerate your behaviour’, and actually are speaking out. That’s huge.”

She said in recent years, she had dealt with a number of women who had been alleged victims of rape by police staff.

Many of those women got the justice they wanted, with their offenders being convicted and jailed, Mrs Nicholas said.

The inquiry investigated quite a few allegations.

The inquiry reviewed 313 complaints of sexual assaults against 222 police officers between 1979 and 2005.

Charges were laid in relation to 141 of those complaints.

As a result, 10 police officers or former officers were convicted of sexual assault, 20 accused were cleared and two officers took their own lives before their cases could be heard.

This shook things up in the Police force, as it should have.

Mike Bush, the third Police Commissioner since 2007, said the inquiry acted as a catalyst for reform.

“We’re now a very, very victim-focused organisation. We’re focused on being very high performing and we have excellent values that sit as the foundation of the New Zealand Police.”

He said the public could have confidence that complaints would be dealt with appropriately.

“If there are any complaints made, in regards to sexual complaints, whether it’s involving our staff or others, we act with absolute urgency, absolute transparency and absolute professionalism with the victim at the heart of everything we do.”

Making complaints of sexual assault is still not easy, but at least now the Police will take them seriously and deal with them much more appropriately.

Independent Police Conduct Authority chair Judge Sir David Carruthers said in a statement that it appeared the police had taken the recommendations very seriously.

“There is no doubt the genuine efforts that have been made to achieve the progress which has been reported.”

Dame Margaret says that since here inquiry there has been a huge cultural change in the Police Force.

“The Commissioner wasn’t always aware of what was happening out in the regions and there had been a culture of tending not to deal with things. But that has all changed.”

“There’s the observing public that take note of this.. and if they were aware of this sort of thing now.. they would be blowing the whistle very smartly I believe.

“I don’t think communities would tolerate that sort of behaviour today.”

There is much less open community tolerance of sexual crime now, and there needs to be zero tolerance of sexual offending by police officers, and zero tolerance of inappropriate handling of sexual assault complaints.