A solicitor who failed to pass on to a client the £132,000 due to her from her divorce settlement – money the profession has now had to stump up – has been struck off.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) heard how Analiza Abella Kjaer ignored multiple attempts by first her client and then the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to contact her and has apparently disappeared.
This frustrated the SRA’s investigation and the absence of any accounts meant “it was unclear whether there may have existed other breaches of the accounts rules or principles which have remained undetected”.
The SDT said that Ms Kjaer, admitted in 2005, was sole practitioner, COLP and COFA at South London firm Able Law, which began trading in 2013.
Client ‘ET’ complained to the SRA in February 2021 that Ms Kjaer had not paid on the divorce settlement money. All but one of her multiple attempts to contact the solicitor were unsuccessful. A further report from a third party three months later said ET had reported Ms Kjaer to the police.
Ms Kjaer failed to reply to any of the SRA’s correspondence, including a statutory production notice. When the SRA visited her offices in May that year, it “transpired that Ms Kjaer had vacated the same, some time prior to the visit”.
The SRA shut down Able Law the following month. It had a client account shortage in respect of ET’s matter of just over £67,500, “which had been caused by payments out of the client account for unrelated matters”.
The Compensation Fund granted ET’s application for £132,000 plus interest in September 2021.
The tribunal said the SRA had made “strenuous efforts” to engage Ms Kjaer, including enquiries at Companies House.
Its investigation officer made five telephone calls, wrote 20 emails, sent four first-class letters and nine more by recorded delivery, with a further letter delivered by hand.
Ms Kjaer failed to respond to a further five emails and three letters sent by the SRA, including a notice of referral to the tribunal.
She was found to have acted dishonestly and without integrity by failing to account for the £132,000 and misusing £67,500 for other purposes.
She was also dishonest in having “misrepresented to ET that she did not have the authority to release the funds” in January 2021, having actually received it the previous month after ET signed the transfer deed of the former matrimonial home and sent it to her ex-husband’s solicitors.
Ms Kjaer was also found to have failed to co-operate with the SRA. She did not respond to the allegations and was not present at her tribunal hearing.
The SDT said it accepted the SRA’s “unchallenged documentary and witness evidence”.
The solicitor was struck off and ordered to pay just over £27,500 in costs.