Alcoholic solicitor struck off for client money misuse

SRA: compensation fund pay-outs

SRA: compensation fund pay-outs

A solicitor who used client money for her own benefit while she was suffering from alcoholism has been struck off.

The medical evidence meant that the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), prosecuting, dropped its allegations of dishonesty against Victoria Louise Robinson.

Ms Robinson, who was born in 1975 and qualified in 2005, opened her own firm in Sheffield in 2012 but it closed two years later when the SRA intervened.

The SRA Compensation Fund has had to pay out £231,000 in grants to former clients. Ms Robinson recovered £128,000 from the client account when the firm was shut down, leaving an overall shortage of £102,000.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) said that around two-thirds of it was transferred in lump sums from client to office account whilst the solicitor was “in a confused state, as a result of alcohol-related problems that she was experiencing at the time. Transfers were also duplicated by the respondent, which resulted in over transfers”.

Admitting the offence, Ms Robinson told the tribunal that she believed she was transferring monies on account of costs which were due to her for work done and authorised.

A further £35,000 went missing, which she reported to the police “stating that the unauthorised withdrawals were likely to have been made via her iPad Air, which she had previously lent to a third party who was known to her”. The settings meant that her login details were ‘remembered’ online.

Ms Robinson admitted most of the six accounts rules related allegations against her, all of which were found proven.

The SDT recorded the solicitor’s mitigation: “At the material time, the respondent was alcohol dependent. She had a history of alcohol-related problems and depression as outlined in her medical reports. The respondent’s problems with alcohol led to her admission as an inpatient to a rehabilitation centre for a period of over six months.

“The medical evidence showed that the respondent presented with features in keeping with recurrent depressive disorder with anxiety. The medical evidence also showed that the respondent’s alcohol intake had had a negative effect on her mental health, and had impacted on the way she behaved at work.

“It was conceivable that, depending on her alcohol intake, the respondent may well have been confused and not known what she was doing day-to-day at work.”

It said Ms Robinson was no longer alcohol dependent, but was still taking medication and regularly attending counselling, AA meetings and care/recovery clinics.

In deciding to strike her off, the tribunal noted that “at the relevant time the respondent had been sufficiently able to manage her own affairs, such that she was able to book a holiday. She had failed to show any real understanding of the stewardship and obligation she was under in relation to client monies”.

At the same time, the tribunal said it took account of the medical evidence, her co-operation with the SRA, “open and frank admissions and genuine insight”.

It concluded: “The respondent regretted what had happened, and took full responsibility for her actions. She did not think that she was currently fit to practice…

“It was clear to the tribunal that the respondent recognised the seriousness of her misconduct; the respondent stated in her answer to the allegations that it was clear that ‘I deserve to be struck off the roll of solicitors’.

“The tribunal considered that a sanction lesser than striking the respondent from the roll, given the seriousness of her proven and admitted misconduct, was not appropriate.”

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