In a further twist to an already tangled tale, the Official Assignee wants to drop a summary judgment appeal against struck-off Auckland lawyer Barry Hart.
At the conclusion of a Court of Appeal hearing today Mr Hart declined to comment, saying there were so many hearings going on he did not want to get in the way of them.
His latest lawyer, Jeremy Bioletti, turned up to appeal an earlier summary finding Mr Hart owed ANZ Bank $20 million.
After a move by the Official Assignee to abandon his appeal involvement, Justices Lyn Stevens, Ellen France and Doug White reserved their decision on whether or not the appeal should be abandoned.
The court was told the Official Assignee wanted the appeal abandoned after a move last week to put two of Mr Hart’s companies – Woodhill Holdings and Malory Corporation – into voluntary liquidation.
The debt-ridden Mr Hart was made bankrupt in the Auckland High Court on December 17 last year. ANZ bank, originally owed more than $30 million, made the summary judgment application over an unpaid damages claim of $34,000.
Mr Hart's debt to ANZ was reduced to $17.5 million after a number of mortgagee property sales.
He was struck off last year after a lawyers' disciplinary tribunal found him guilty of professional misconduct by grossly overcharging some of his clients.
Mr Bioletti told the court today that while he did not want the appeal abandoned, he would be happy for it to be adjourned while a parallel application is heard in the High Court.
The application to the High Court is to set aside the Official Assignee’s attempt to abandon or withdraw the appeal.
ANZ lawyer Laura O’Gorman told today’s hearing it was imperative for the Court of Appeal to clarify the position of the appeal in order to remove any impediment to complete the bank’s mortgagee sale of Mr Hart’s property on State Highway 16, north-west of Auckland.
Mr Hart argues the bank cannot sell his home because it is owned by a trust, not him.
He has sought a number of injunctions to prevent the sale of other properties previously, a move Ms O’Gorman noted.
“Mr Hart’s strategy all along has been to delay proceedings. There have been various applications to prevent the settlement of mortgagee sales.”
Justice Stevens asked Ms O’Gorman what jurisdiction they had if the appeal was to be abandoned.
Ms O’Gorman said any abandonment would not prevent Mr Bioletti from arguing the underlying merits of the appeal.
Numerous times during the hearing, Mr Bioletti said he had only been assigned this appeal yesterday.
"You're a long way behind the eight-ball here, Mr Bioletti,” Justice Stevens said.
Outside court, Mr Bioletti told NBR ONLINE he had been given this appeal because he had helped Mr Hart with his initial bankruptcy hearing.
He says Mr Hart’s controversial lawyer, Davina Murray, herself a bankrupt, would still be representing Mr Hart on other issues.
Ms Murray was charged early last year with smuggling an iPhone 4, cigarettes and a lighter to convicted rapist and murderer Liam Reid in 2011.
She was in the Auckland High Court last week asking for Reid to be allowed to join her judicial review of police and private prison operator Serco's actions, and was given a fortnight to file a fresh statement of claim.
Meanwhile, in another development, Mr Bioletti confirmed Mr Hart’s "legal team" had applied to the Supreme Court for leave to appeal against his December 17 bankruptcy.
The Court of Appeal struck out that appeal last month when Mr Hart failed to front up with a $5880 security payment required for the hearing.
Mr Hart later found the money and paid the security.