Law Firm Partner Suspended and Ordered to Pay Costs Following Sex Shop Incident with Interns

Law Firm Partner Suspended and Ordered to Pay Costs Following Sex Shop Incident with Interns

Richard Dean Palmer, (known as Dean Palmer) a former senior partner at a law firm, has been suspended and ordered to pay $65,000 in penalties after taking two female interns on a drunken lunch trip to a sex shop.

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Palmer had been working for Christchurch law firm Saunders & Co when the NZLS hearings began. The firm has now said it has changed its hiring practices.

Palmer was found guilty of multiple charges of misconduct last year, following this incident and two others involving junior colleagues. Five individuals, including three young women, accused him of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior over a period of almost three years.

Earlier this year, the Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal met to decide on a penalty for Palmer. His lawyer argued that Palmer was a “creature of his generation” and a tactile person who had not intended any sexual harassment or overtones.

However, the tribunal suspended Palmer for 18 months and ordered him to pay $38,000 in legal costs and $26,000 to cover the costs of the Law Society.

The tribunal described Palmer’s actions as “reprehensible and disturbing” and said that his conduct towards the complainants brought the profession into disrepute. They also noted that it was concerned about Palmer’s lack of insight into the harm caused by his actions.

The main charge against Palmer related to an incident in 2015 when he took two female law clerks to lunch at a BYO restaurant. Palmer took them to another venue to purchase stronger liquor, which the women poured out when he wasn’t looking. He then took them to an adult sex shop, where he talked to the shop assistant and obtained business cards, which he handed to the women. The interns told the tribunal they felt uncomfortable and “weird” about the situation.

Palmer’s behavior was described as “highly inappropriate,” and the tribunal noted that he had “plied” the interns with alcohol, taken them to venues where it was not easy for them to escape, and taken them into an adult sex shop. Palmer’s employer, Anderson Lloyd, suspended him from the office and later terminated his employment after notifying him that the situation would be investigated.

In a 2017 incident, while working for Duncan Cotterill, Palmer leaned in close to a woman at a lunch where “a large amount of alcohol was consumed.” He allegedly patted her on the knee and stroked her hair and shoulder, causing her to feel uncomfortable. Another charge related to a series of emails between Palmer and a first-year lawyer at the firm, where he suggested taking her out to dinner and made inappropriate comments.

The tribunal has yet to release its full reasons for suspending Palmer, but it stated that his conduct towards the complainants was “disgraceful and dishonorable.”

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