Lawyers caught with drugs – should they be treated harsher?

Should lawyers hold a higher responsibility when charged with a minor or serious drug offence?
In July 2015, Lisa Munro, 33, was forced to resign from her position as lawyer for New South Wales Department of Public Prosecutions after being found guilty of drug possession when police found 0.65 grams of cocaine on her during a search performed in July.

The Magistrate in Munro’s case, Greg Grogin, in dismissing the charges against Munro, told the court he would “treat Munro as a member of the community rather than a solicitor who had been caught with drugs” and sentenced her to a 12 month good behaviour bond, without recording a criminal conviction, pursuant to Section 10(1)(b) of the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999.

Grogin used the high profile case to send a “loud and clear” message that drug use or possession was “not an acceptable way of living” for anyone and especially for someone like Munro who was expected, due to her position, to uphold and exemplify the law.

In August 2014, former senior government lawyer Nick Gouliaditis was arrested by police at the Australian Government Solicitor office block in Sydney’s Martin Place He was charged with an array of criminal offences including: supplying 13 grams of ice, supplying GHB to undercover police, dealing in the proceeds of crime, resisting arrest and possessing a prohibited firearm.

At his sentencing hearing, instead of going to jail, the judge adjourned the decision until July of the following year saying that Gouliaditis needed to “ persuade” him “by [his] behaviour over the next few months — not to send [him] to jail.” This was despite the court finding that Goulisditis was supplying Ice and at times selling from his government office in Sydney City.

Gouliaditis excused his drug use by telling the court that his life had “spiraled” out of control in the months leading up to his arrest. He said he had started using the drug ice intravenously to deal with depression and a relationship break-up. Phillip Boulton SC, asked the judge to consider the motives for Gouliaditis’s drug use because Gouliaditis told the court that the money he got from selling drugs was used to fuel his own drug habit. Boulton also stressed that Gouliaditis drug use developed over time due to his depressive illness. Gouliaditis was released with additional bail conditions, including frequent and random drug testing.

However, there are many common folk who like Gouliaditis take or become addicted to drugs or do other sorts of criminal activity because of emotional or financial duress. Do their mitigating circumstances deserve any less consideration just because they are not members of this type of established profession?

The Lawyers Codes of Professional Responsibility stress otherwise because as the Leg Profession Uniform Law Australian Solicitors’ Conduct Rules 2015 states, the fundamental duties of solicitors is to “avoid any compromise to their integrity and professional independence.”

It would seem that lawyers caught with drugs really “should know better”.