Monday, October 24, 2016

News: Dishonest Rotherham solicitor struck off

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The actions of a partner which closed down a 125-year-old Rotherham solicitors has seen him struck off from the legal profession after a tribunal heard of acts of dishonesty, misappropriation and concealment.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), which regulates more than 130,000 solicitors in England and Wales, stepped in and closed down the operations of Gichard & Co last year after an investigation into Charles Rhodes, senior partner, found that "there was reason to suspect dishonesty."

The recently published tribunal hearing shows how Rhodes, admitted to the roll of solicitors in 1991, had overcharged a client when dealing with executing a will, by over £250,000.

Investigators found a further nine cases where a total of £69,000 had been withdrawn in respect of costs for which no bills had been raised.

The first allegation involved the dealing with an estate where a total of £437,125 had been transferred from the client account to the office account but the final bill was only £170,250. Attending the tribunal in person, Rhodes was asked whether he would regard it as honest or dishonest for a solicitor to take more than three times the amount in costs that he regarded as reasonable. He replied that it was "hard to escape the conclusion, looking at it now, that it was dishonest."

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At the time however Rhodes said that he had been under considerable pressure relating to matters in his personal life as well as his own health and that he was operating on "autopilot" and was not thinking at all. The Tribunal found that the amount of money was so significant that it could not simply be regarded as overbilling.

In the case, the principal beneficiary was only 16 at the time and a beneficiary of the estate later raised concerns over the costs and instructed another solicitor to get on the case. The estate in this case was repaid in full in May 2016, the other estates had not.

The tribunal also heard that Rhodes went on to create a false client account ledger together with false bills to substantiate the entries in the ledger and concluded that this was to deceive the investigating solicitors and the regulators in order to conceal his wrongdoing in respect of the misappropriation.

Rhodes told the tribunal that he had been "manifestly stupid" and that he would always regret his actions. He agreed that he had been a "monumental fool" and for that he had taken responsibility. He added that he had no intention of returning to the legal profession.

The tribunal concluded: "This was far from an isolated incident. The misconduct had taken place on an ongoing basis over a period of 12 years during which time estates had been repeatedly and deliberately overcharged, funds had been misappropriated and concealment had followed.

"The misconduct was at the highest level and the only appropriate sanction was a Strike Off. The protection of the public and of the reputation of the profession demanded nothing less."

SRA website

Images: Google Maps


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