Original article no longer available
Otago Daily Times
Wednesday, 13-August 2003
Judge rules potential employers entitled to know of conviction
A Scottish-born scientist who obtained $15,000 in research funds from the OECD by forging a letter in support of her funding application has been convicted and refused name suppression.
Jennifer Margaret Laing Anderson (36) appeared before Judge Stephen O’Driscoll in the Dunedin District Court yesterday and admitted forging the letter, dated October 9, 2001.
It was purportedly signed by the office administrator on behalf of the managing director of the Dunedin-based company for which Anderson was then working, and was posted to the OECD in France.
As a result of the application to the OECD Co-operative Research Programme, made without the knowledge of her employer, Anderson was paid 7882 euros which converted to about $NZ15,000, the court heard.
The letter supporting her application stated she would be involved in a specific research project for 17 weeks.
Anderson resigned from her position with her Dunedin employer in July last year. When spoken to by police, she admitted the offence and said she did it because her managing director was “too busy to write the letter himself”.
She apologised for what she had done and offered to repay the money.
But counsel Pene Williams said the OECD accepted the terms of the research fellowship had been met and that Anderson was entitled to the funding. They did not require repayment.
Ms Williams applied for a discharge without conviction for Anderson who, she said, was a very highly respected and well-recognised scientist in the agricultural science community.
She had hoped to return to a position in the United Kingdom but that had become redundant. Since resigning from the Dunedin company, Anderson had been working with local people, helping them with horses.
She had been on medication for stress-related depression at the time of the offence and this might have affected her judgement.
The defendant was aware of the contents of the victim impact statement but said she had not intended to mislead the company, Ms Williams told the court. Although Anderson did not think she had signed the letter, she had agreed, when police showed it to her, that it looked like her writing. She accepted she had not had any authority to sign the other person’s name but said there had been “an ongoing pattern of late signing”.
The level of criminality was “very minimal”, Ms Williams submitted, asking for a section 106 discharge without conviction.
Prosecutor Sergeant Paul Knox objected to such an outcome. He took issue with the submission Anderson had not intended to mislead and said the offending was not minimal, as contended by Ms Williams.
It could be argued Anderson would not have obtained the funding without the letter, which she had not been authorised to write. The managing director of the company was still suffering and had been put to a great deal of time and trouble.
Judge O’Driscoll said Anderson had no previous criminal convictions. She was obviously extremely intelligent, but that intelligence was such, he believed she knew what she was doing was wrong and she had acknowledged that by pleading guilty.
If he discharged Anderson under section 106 of the Sentencing Act, it would mean she could go to future employers and truthfully say she did not have a conviction.
“I believe future employers need to know about this, especially as you are involved in research,” the judge said. “A discharge would hide the offending from them.”
The New Zealand Court of Appeal had said courts should not be a party to hiding offending from employers and, while the offending might have occurred when she was under stress and on medication, he was not prepared to discharge her without conviction, Judge O’Driscoll told Anderson.
He accepted a conviction would have “very real consequences” for her in the future. But potential employers should know, “and are entitled to know” about the offending.
He convicted Anderson, ordered her to pay $130 court costs and made an order suppressing the name of the company for which she had worked.