Dishonest but “humanitarian” solicitor avoids strike-off

SDT: Unique combination of circumstances

A solicitor found to have misled a court, lied to a client about receiving money from them and falsely held himself out as a notary public has avoided being struck off.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) said a “unique combination of circumstances” meant it was appropriate instead to suspend Alberto Khadra-Pozo indefinitely in the hope he could rehabilitate himself.

The solicitor’s motivation was neither financial nor malicious, it decided. “He had a humanitarian ethos and had been trying to assist people as the personal references attested.

“However, that altruism had extended to misleading the court. As regards the notary public allegation, the respondent’s motivation was to exaggerate his status to give himself an importance which he did not have.”

Mr Khadra-Pozo, who qualified in 2004, submitted a judicial review application in 2018 in an immigration case which wrongly said he had followed the pre-action protocol and implied that there had been a delay since 2015, when the Home Office had in fact dealt with the matter in 2017.

The case was dismissed as being totally without merit and Mr Justice Lane wrote to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to outline concerns about Mr Khadra-Pozo’s conduct.

The SDT accepted that the solicitor was not an immigration lawyer “and appeared to have limited experience of litigation generally”, relying instead on another fee-earner.

The tribunal found that Mr Khadra-Pozo had not checked the file adequately “and this demonstrated clear incompetence”. But his actions were not dishonest because he had formed a “mistaken but firmly held view of the situation”. However, his actions lacked integrity.

In another matter, Client C paid £2,000 on account of costs to the unregulated firm Mr Khadro-Pozo was working for at the time but, following a breakdown in their relationship, he asked for the balance of the money back.

The solicitor denied having received the money, even though he had acknowledged receipt seven months earlier.

His defence was based on the fact that the monies had not been paid into his personal bank account, as he was no longer a director of the unregulated firm.

But the SDT found this was “an attempt to draw and artificial distinction” between himself and the firm and rejected it. Instead, it decided that Mr Kahdro-Pozo had knowingly lied to Client C.

When another client asked for the return of the costs they had paid on account, the solicitor did not reply, which he told the tribunal was because the emails had gone into his spam email folder and he had not seen them.

The SDT said it had no evidential basis on which to disbelieve this, but this was a breach of the rules as Mr Khadro-Pozo was “nevertheless under a duty to ensure that he had an effective way of communicating with his clients”.

He admitted describing himself in emails and on business cards as a notary public when he was not, explaining that the words were “only added to my signature because of the mistaken belief that on the continent of Europe, the work done by a notary is equivalent to that of a solicitor”.

The SDT accepted his evidence that he had made no money from doing this, but found that he knew it was untrue and so he had acted dishonestly.

In mitigation, his representative Victor Okoh, a partner at London firm Burgess Okoh Saunders, said he had reason to be “personally grateful” to Mr Kahdro-Pozo, who had supported him financially when he had first come to the UK.

“Mr Okoh told the tribunal that this altruism was exhibited more widely than just towards him and had meant that the respondent had turned down more lucrative employment in order to maintain his commitment to help the community.”

His work for the immigration client was an example of this, as Mr Kahdro-Pozo covered the costs of disbursements himself where he could.

The SDT concluded that Mr Kahdro-Pozo’s actions were “not generally thought-out” – the email denying receipt of the £2,000 was sent at 1am – and he had breached his duty to the court and to his clients, “who had trusted him and been let down”.

He should also not have dealt with matters where he did not have experience.

However, the dishonesty was “short-lived in the case of Client C”, while the notary public matter “arose from a one-off decision”. A previous appearance before the SDT, back in 2009, led to a £1,000 fine but did not involve dishonesty and was not directly relevant.

The tribunal further accepted that there had been no financial gain, “intended or actual”, the “adverse effect on others was limited” and medical evidence showed Mr Kahdro-Pozo had been suffering from severe health issues “which had undoubtedly impaired judgment at the time of the dishonest conduct”.

It went on: “Mr Okoh had submitted that the respondent could be rehabilitated and it was the tribunal’s hope that the respondent may recover from his ill-health.

“The tribunal took into account each factor individually but also cumulatively. There was a unique combination of circumstances in this case including, but not limited to, the respondent’s health.

“Those factors, taken together, were such that the tribunal considered it would be unjust to strike the respondent from the roll. The appropriate sanction in this particular case was an indefinite suspension.”

It ordered him to pay a token £750 in costs given that Mr Kahdro-Pozo was on benefits, and had no assets but considerable debts.

The SRA had sought costs of £47,653, which the tribunal initially reduced £35,740 in recognition of other allegations which were not proved.

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