Maori Treaty lawyer Donna Hall’s credibility and income is at stake as she slugs it out with outraged tribal clients, the Waitangi Tribunal and the law society.
Ms Hall, the wife of High Court judge and former Waitangi Tribunal chairman Justice Eddie Durie, has been dumped from her lucrative role as lead lawyer running the huge Volcanic Interior Plateau (VIP) Treaty of Waitangi claim over central North Island forests, lakes and rivers.
She has sued Ngati Tuwharetoa paramount chief Tumu te Heuheu over disputed legal fees related to the VIP claim.
She also wants the Waitangi Tribunal to “reinstate” her following her removal last year as VIP claim lawyer, a role for which she received a $20,000-a-month retainer paid by the Crown Forestry Rental Trust (CFRT).
She is also fighting a Wellington District Law Society inquiry into a complaint made by former CFRT trustee Graham France relating to more than $200,000 of disputed fees.
High-level sources close to the VIP claim did not expect Ms Hall’s actions to jeopardise the government’s announced agreement in April that it would negotiate settlement directly with iwi but feared she could have a disruptive effect that could delay settlement.
In a civil action said to have shocked and outraged many Maori, Ms Hall failed to get summary judgment this week against Mr te Heuheu, whom she sued personally over a disputed fees bill.
Mr te Heuheu is chairman of an umbrella grouping of more than 100 claimants brought together under the VIP claim, a grouping Ms Hall was instrumental in establishing.
Rotorua District Court judge Philip Cooper was told in a last-minute memorandum this week that a small part of Ms Hall’s action, in the name of her firm Woodward Law, had been settled and that Ms Hall had also withdrawn some parts of her action.
The court refused to release details of the claim but part is understood to relate to legal fees of about $19,000 allegedly owed to Wellington Queen’s counsel Ian Millard.
This week’s move was the latest in a series of bitter disputes Ms Hall has with her former VIP clients stemming mainly from a decision last year by VIP project manager and chief executive Rawiri Te Whare not to renew Ms Hall’s legal contract.