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Kapiti councillor may lose his seat after indecent assault conviction

Report from RNZ
A Kapiti Coast district councillor will be forced to vacate his council seat if his conviction for a sex offence survives an appeal.

The conviction was entered against 71-year-old David Scott in the Wellington District Court this afternoon on a charge of indecent assault.

It related to an incident in April last year, where he rubbed his genitalia against a council staff member while she was speaking to the Mayor during a council morning tea.

A jury found Scott guilty after a four-day trial last month. Scott was fined $1500 today and issued a first warning under the three strikes law.

The victim read a statement to the court outlining the effect Scott’s offending had on her, but Judge Peter Hobbs suppressed all details.

Defence lawyer Mike Antunovic suggested the entry of a conviction against Scott was punishment enough.

However Judge Hobbs said there were several aggravating features to the offending, including that Scott was an elected official and the victim was a senior member of the council staff who could expect to be treated professionally, and with courtesy and respect.

“You have fallen well short of that. You have breached trust in a workplace where all staff were entitled to feel safe from such behaviour, particularly from those in positions of power and responsibility.”

Crown prosecutor Kate Feltham conceded the offending was not the most serious of its kind and accepted a community-based sentence would be appropriate.

“The Crown accepts it was at the lower end of the scale, brief and over clothing but it involved a breach of the position he [held] and had a serious effect on the victim for the reasons she has articulated today.”

Mr Antunovic said a few seconds of inexplicable behaviour had changed his client’s life at the ripe old age of nearly 72 and Scott felt his good reputation – forged through a career in secondary and university teaching and public service – had been destroyed.

“He regards the guilty verdict as going against everything he’s lived for all his life… and today he sees as nothing less than an absolute tragedy as far as his life is concerned. He won’t be able to continue as a JP, and his Rotaryinvolvement may have to end. He feels he won’t be able to continue community work such as driving the elderly and ill to hospital.”

Mr Antunovic said the court process had been stressful and Scott had had a pacemaker installed. He said his client spent Monday at Wellington Hospital because of heart problems, but he had attended sentencing because he wanted to put the incident behind him.

“He has experienced deep shame as a result of the verdict and the result of the impact of that and the publicity this case has brought on him and his wider family particularly over the last 12 to 14 months.”

Judge Hobbs said Scott was not entitled to credit for remorse as he had shown none and still maintained his innocence. He said despite the fact a conviction would end Scott’s career on the Kapiti Coast District Council, a conviction must be entered.

“As a matter of principle it cannot be correct that elected officials are immune from the consequences of criminal offending because of their elected status.

“Parliament has clearly turned its mind to such a scenario by providing for it in the Local Government Act. It is therefore a foreseeable consequence of offending while in office as an elected official.”

Judge Hobbs said Scott would still be able to stand for re-election if a by-election were held to replace him on the council.

Outside the court Scott’s victim said there were no winners in cases like this, but at least the workplace was safer for others.

Scott said he felt numb with what he described as the injustice of the case.

He continued to deny the offending and indicated he will lodge an appeal.

Meanwhile the Kapiti Coast District Council has issued a statement saying Scott will be on a leave of absence until the appeal period has expired or any appeal is heard and cannot act as a councillor during that time.

Chief executive Wayne Maxwell said the Local Government Act set out what happened when a councillor was convicted of a crime that carried a maximum penalty of more than two years’ imprisonment.

“Subject to any appeal, Councillor David Scott will be disqualified from office. If this happens before 12 October there will be a by-election.”