Senior defence lawyer’s actions referred to Law Society in Taranaki meth dealing case

Defense attorney Mark Ryan filed a last-minute motion to stay his client’s sentencing, much to the presiding judge’s frustration. Photo / NZME

A judge has criticized the behavior of a seasoned defense attorney who failed to send qualified counsel to his client’s sentencing in his absence in a “high-stakes” case in the meth deal.

Judge Tony Greig made clear his dissatisfaction with attorney Mark Ryan during a hearing in New Plymouth District Court which ended with the judge escalating his concerns about the attorney’s actions to the New Zealand Law Society.

At the center of the case was defendant Marlon Jon Bird of Taranaki, who was brought to court from prison Tuesday on charges of a range of drug offenses, including possession of methamphetamine for supply.

But Bird’s attorney was not there, despite having court approval to appear via audio visual link (AVL) as he was also involved in a trial in Palmerston North at the same time.

Instead, Ryan of Auckland’s Vulcan Chambers directed his junior counsel, Jamie-Anne Tulloch, to attend via AVL on his behalf.

She told the judge that her direction from Ryan was clear – that she would be determined to seek an adjournment.

Yesterday, Ryan filed a motion to postpone sentencing, despite the date being four months, to allow a cultural report to be completed.

Marlon Jon Bird appeared in New Plymouth District Court on Tuesday.  Photo / Tara Shaskey
Marlon Jon Bird appeared in New Plymouth District Court on Tuesday. Photo / Tara Shaskey

Judge Greig’s frustration with the motion and the reason for it was evident.

However, Tulloch said it was Bird’s wish to have the report brought to trial and that the case with Dr. Jarrod Gilbert is already underway.

She said it would explain how the 35-year-old was “found” involved in drug-related offenses and that without her, there could be some wrongdoing.

However, the judge said a “very thorough” prejudice report had been presented to the court and asked what additional information a culture report could provide.

Crown prosecutor Rebekah Hicklin agreed with Judge Greig, already producing the prejudice report showing there was a connection between Bird’s background and his offence.

It implied that he had been exposed to drug use from a young age and would warrant a reduction in his sentence, she added.

Hicklin opposed the adjournment and expressed concern that the case would be dragged out further as it has been in court since 2019.

As Tulloch continued to press for a postponement, she said it was a “serious conviction” involving “serious drug offenses” and that Bird was entitled to have his attorney, Ryan, present.

The lead counsel’s instructions to Tulloch were limited to asking for an adjournment, she said, before revealing that the high-level conviction exceeded her qualifications as counsel.

“I am not sufficiently qualified to appear at this verdict and I am concerned at the prospect of Mr. Bird being convicted without his attorney.”

From the dock, Bird himself applied for further custody.

“I’d really like an adjournment so I can have a fair chance,” he pleaded.

However, Judge Greig said full submissions had been presented to the court and the sentencing was proceeding as planned, causing Bird’s mother, who was sitting in the public gallery, to gasp.

However, Tulloch continued her attempts to convince the judge otherwise, stating that she had limited knowledge of the case and had not benefited from the prejudice report or the letters of contrition.

“This matter is most untidy when a junior counsel appears.

“I am not in a position to adequately represent Mr. Bird. Mr Bird is entitled to adequate legal representation and that is not happening in this court.”

Eventually, Judge Greig conceded that he would have to postpone it, but acknowledged that Ryan was to blame for the further delay.

“He knew about it, he knew he was in a trial today, and he didn’t do anything to hire other attorneys.”

Judge Greig sympathized with Tulloch and the “position to which she was placed by the lead counsel”.

In granting the adjournment, he directed that a qualified attorney must appear in person on November 16, Bird’s new sentencing date.

He also referred the matter to the New Zealand Law Society, the national regulator of the legal profession.

Ryan did not respond to Open Justice’s request for comment on today’s hearing.

Prosecutors are following two police raids on Bird’s address, one in 2019 and the other in 2021 while he was on bail for the previous offense.

Both searches turned up tens of thousands of dollars, large amounts of P and cannabis, and chemicals and equipment needed to manufacture methamphetamine.