Criminal lawyer who lied in witness statement is struck off

Court: Solicitor appeared as advocate five days after conditions were imposed

An experienced criminal law solicitor who broke the conditions on his practising certificate (PC) just days after they were imposed and then lied about it in a witness statement, has been struck off.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) heard that Michael David Schwartz appeared in court as an advocate only five days after the tribunal imposed a restriction on his PC that prevented him from working as a solicitor without the approval of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

In the witness statement, Mr Schwartz said he appeared as an advocate “inadvertently” because he believed at the time that the restrictions did not come into effect “until the publication of the judgment” from the hearing.

However, despite having already broken the SDT’s order, Mr Schwartz applied to vary it and gave evidence in person at a further hearing in December 2016.

During cross-examination by counsel for the SRA, Mr Schwartz admitted that, “contrary to what he had claimed in his witness statement and in his instructions to counsel”, he “had in fact known” at the conclusion of his original hearing that the restrictions “came into immediate effect”.

The SDT said this was “obvious” because the restrictions “had been read out by the tribunal chair”.

Mr Schwartz admitted that he had “lied to the SRA and the tribunal in his witness statement (and via his counsel)”.

The solicitor was born in 1954, and admitted in 1979.

Mr Schwartz was fined £2,500 by the SDT in 1992 for taking money out of client account in breach of the rules, failing to maintain books of account and failing to deliver accountant’s reports.

He was fined again, this time for £1,000, in 2001 for “conduct unbefitting a solicitor” after a cheque was paid into his personal bank account.

The SDT imposed a five-year suspended suspension on Mr Schwartz in September 2016 for accounts rule breaches and practising without authorisation by describing himself as a sole practitioner.

The tribunal also imposed tight restrictions on Mr Schwartz’s PC, among other things preventing him from working as a sole practitioner or partner, holding client money, and being employed as a solicitor without the approval of the SRA.

The SRA applied to the SDT to activate the suspension at the December 2016 hearing “on the basis that the respondent had breached the permission restriction”.

However, in the absence of a formal application, it was not until a further hearing in February 2017 that the suspension was activated by the SDT – the first time it had ever made such a move.

The SDT said Mr Schwartz had now admitted, in an agreed outcome with the SRA, filing a witness statement which he knew contained false and/or misleading information.

He admitted breaching the conditions placed on his PC “in circumstances where he was aware of the restriction”, and acting dishonesty in respect of both allegations.

In mitigation, the solicitor said he had “panicked” in a way that was “unfortunate and regrettable” in his witness statement, made the day before the December 2016 hearing.

“However, they were actions that took place during an extremely stressful time of his life when he was under great financial pressure and culminated in some poor decisions on the spur of the moment which have now had an adverse effect on his entire life.”

The tribunal said there was harm to the reputation of the profession where a solicitor breached restrictions put in place to protect the public and lied about it, and matters were aggravated by the fact Mr Schwarz had been disciplined on three previous occasions.

He was struck off and ordered to pay costs of £2,600.

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