SDT strikes off solicitor who left “trail of destruction” behind her

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22 September 2016

SDT: respondent caused harm to vulnerable people

SDT: respondent caused harm to vulnerable people

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) has struck off a solicitor after she was convicted on four counts of providing immigration advice or immigration services while suspended from practice.

The judge at Luton Magistrates’ Court where Flora Magadaline Mendes was convicted last year described “a trail of destruction towards vulnerable people she left in her wake as she continued to practise”.

She was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment on each count, to run concurrently, suspended for two years. In addition, the court imposed a curfew order and ordered her to pay £5,226 in compensation and prosecution costs. She unsuccessfully appealed against the conviction at the Crown Court in Luton in March 2016.

Ms Mendes, who did not appear at this month’s SDT hearing and was not represented, was born in 1978 and admitted as a solicitor in 2009. The criminal offences occurred after she was suspended from practice from January 2013 by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), following an intervention into an unregistered practice, Mendes Solicitors.

In May 2016, she was suspended for two years by the SDT and ordered to pay costs of £16,300 after the SRA charged her with various accounts rules and other rule breaches in relation to Mendes Solicitors. The hearing earlier this month was told that the SRA decided not to roll the two prosecutions into one because, in relation to the first one, “the respondent had sought a number of adjournments and the SRA did not want to add fuel to that particular fire”.

The tribunal recorded that it would “put the knowledge of the previous matter from its mind” so the solicitor would “not receive a more severe sanction than she otherwise would have had a single tribunal adjudicated upon all the matters”.

On the eve of the hearing, Ms Mendes e-mailed the tribunal applying to overturn an earlier decision refusing her an adjournment, claiming she was “mentally disturbed so much so that I do not want to face the panel or anyone at the SDT as a culprit or criminal”. In part because no medical evidence was supplied, the tribunal refused to grant the application.

The solicitor was charged with failing to uphold the rule of law and the proper administration of justice, failing to act with integrity, and failing to behave in a way which maintained the trust the public placed in her and in the provision of legal services. The tribunal held that all charges were proved.

In striking Ms Mendes off the roll of solicitors, the tribunal said her “culpability was high” and that her “misconduct involved the commission of four criminal offences and was deliberate, calculated and repeated.”

The most likely reason for her misconduct had been financial gain, it said: “The misconduct was planned. The respondent had accepted the work and it was work that she was not eligible to undertake. She had acted in breach of a position of trust and had direct control of and responsibility for the circumstances giving rise to the misconduct. The respondent’s level of experience was such that she must have known what she was doing was wrong.”

She had caused harm to the people who instructed her – who were “potentially vulnerable as whether or not they could remain in the country was at stake” – that was “significant and reasonably foreseeable”.

The profession’s reputation had also been harmed it said, continuing: “No solicitor should act in this way and the impact on the public and the reputation of the profession was substantial…

“The misconduct was not a single episode or one of very brief duration and accordingly the tribunal did not need to consider whether or not it would treat the respondent as having a previously unblemished career. The respondent had shown no insight and there were no mitigating circumstances.”

The tribunal ordered the respondent to pay costs totalling £1,238.

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