Councillor suspended from legal practice on an interim basis

Takena Stirling

A lawyer suspended after apparently losing his moral compass is Takena Stirling, Waipā’s first Māori ward councillor.

The Law Society posted details of the suspension on its website yesterday (Thursday 16 March). That caught Waipā District Council by surprise who said it was not aware of any decision coming out about Stirling. Twenty minutes later, the council issued a statement saying mayor Susan O’Regan had accepted Stirling’s verbal resignation effective immediately.

The News rang Stirling but the call went to voice mail.

Takena Stirling at his swearing in with mayor Susan O’Regan. Photo: Mary Anne Gill

In a statement today, the council confirmed nominations will open for a by election at the end of the month. It will cost between $22,000-$25,000.

Only those voters on the Māori electoral roll will be able to cast a vote.

O’Regan said she was “deeply disappointed”.

“It’s not just me. All councillors are disappointed and frankly, quite disheartened. This is not what we wanted for our council or our district or for those whom Takena represented,” she said.

“Takena has taken full responsibility for his actions and I am grateful for that. Now we can get on quickly and get someone else into his seat. By law (Local Government Act) we have no choice but to hold a by-election so let’s just get on with it.”

The Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal says it suspended Te Awamutu lawyer ‘Duncan Takena Stirling’ from practice on an interim basis from 22 December 2022.

Read: Humbled and privileged.

See: NEW ZEALAND LAWYERS AND CONVEYANCERS DISCIPLINARY TRIBUNAL

The Standards Committee sought an interim suspension order in respect of Stirling after laying two charges before the Tribunal. The Tribunal noted that the first charge was based on affidavit evidence that Stirling had deceived his bank or misappropriated funds advanced for a purported settlement by diverting funds for his own use. The bank suffered a net loss of $85,000 after it used $15,000 held by Stirling in a separate fund to mitigate its loss. Charge 2 indicated that Stirling’s trust account dealings had been irregular for some time (although the Tribunal noted that the evidence was not as strong as for Charge 1).

Stirling told the Law Society Inspectorate that he would repay the money to the banks, which led the Tribunal to comment that he did not seem to appreciate that obtaining and using the advance for his own personal reasons was wrong. The Tribunal found that Stirling had “lost his moral compass in relation to trust moneys” and was a risk to the public and any bankers that he may engage.

Takena Stirling

The Tribunal therefore found that it was necessary or desirable to make the order suspending Stirling from practice on an interim basis until the charges filed by the Committee are disposed of. Stirling had consented to the order on a without prejudice basis. Stirling has the ability to seek a review of the interim suspension.

In a statement, O’Regan said Stirling’s verbal resignation was effective immediately and that he would not return to council. A written resignation was received about 5pm.

The resignation means Waipā District Council will hold a by-election as required by law.

Nominations will close on April 27 and the delivery of postal voting papers will start on June 1.  Voting will close on Friday June 23 with a successful candidate likely to be announced the same day.

The election will be managed independently on council’s behalf by electionnz.com.

Stirling became Waipā’s first Māori ward councillor at the local body elections last year.

He won a three way contest for the seat beating Gaylene Roberts and Bill Harris.

Stirling provided an old monochrome photo for campaigning purposes. The rules say candidates had to provide a colour photo less than 12 months old. When The News raised the issue with the electoral officer, he was unconcerned.

Takena Stirling, left, was one of two newly-elected councillors. The other was Mike Montgomerie. Photo: Mary Anne Gill

The then 38-year-old commercial lawyer picked up more than half of the Māori ward’s 552 votes when voting closed.

Stirling hails from the iwi Te Whānau-ā-Apanui on his father’s side, and Tūhoe on his mother’s. He was raised in Kihikihi and attended Kihikihi Primary and Te Awamutu Intermediate, before he became a boarder at St Stephen’s School in Auckland.

After he completed a law degree at Waikato University he opened his law firm Stirling Legal in Te Awamutu. He lives in Kihikihi.

Takena Stirling’s presence on the Waipa District Council website has been taken down.

He was notably absent from last week’s Strategic Planning and Policy committee without an excuse. Under new conventions this term, councillors have to give a reason why they are not present at meetings.

Stirling’s details are no longer on the Waipā District Council website.

Takena Stirling, left, with mayor Susan O’Regan and other councillors at their swearing in last year. Photo: Mary Anne Gill

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