City solicitor suspended after second police cocaine caution

Cocaine: Solicitor received two cautions

A City solicitor who received a second police caution for possessing cocaine – but failed to report it out of fear of losing his job and marriage – has been banned from practice for a year.

Matthew Podger said he was going through a period of “significant stress” in his personal life at the time.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal has approved a statement of agreed facts and proposed outcome reached between Mr Podger and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

He qualified at Slaughter and May in 2013, joining the London office of US firm Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton in 2017 until his resignation in January 2019.

In 2014, Mr Podger was cautioned for possessing cocaine, promptly self-reporting both to his firm and the SRA, telling them it was a “one-off and uncharacteristic lapse of judgment on my part”.

The regulator sent him a ‘letter of advice’ which was to lie on his file as a result. He disclosed what had happened to Cleary when he joined.

In March 2018, Mr Podger was arrested outside his home having been found in possession of three wraps of cocaine. He accepted a second caution.

This time he did not report himself to his firm or SRA until after Cleary received an anonymous tip-off. The firm suspended him and he resigned three days later.

The solicitor told the SRA that the delay was in part because he feared losing his job and career.

He accepted that he had shown a lack of integrity, and the SRA dropped its allegation that the failure to report was dishonest. The regulator said that, in light of all the evidence, “we accept that the tribunal may not find it proved to the required standard”.

In mitigation, Mr Podger said that, at the time of his arrest, he was “undergoing a period of significant stress in his personal life due to problems in his young marriage. He had also been working very long hours and was often away from home”.

He said that, after the caution, “the deterioration of his marriage accelerated”.

The agreement said: “However, he knew that he would not have his wife’s support during the process [if he self-reported] which would almost certainly result in his losing his job and his career and so his marriage and home too. (Ultimately, this is exactly what happened.)

“He therefore felt that, in order to maintain his livelihood and save his marriage, he had no choice but to keep secret what had happened.”

The SRA said the “protection of the public and public confidence in the provision of legal services” demanded that Mr Podger be suspended – a year “adequately marks the gravity of the conduct”.

On returning to practice, he will also be banned from being a compliance or money laundering reporting officer.

“[He] should not hold importance compliance roles which require judgements on reporting matters to the SRA,” the statement said.

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