A solicitor whose misconduct “spiralled” from maladministration to using client money to pay personal expenses, and included calling a client a “spastick”, has been struck off.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) said Kirsten Von Wedel’s actions had done “horrendous” damage to the reputation of the profession.
Having denied the multiple allegations made against her, she has appealed the ruling to the High Court but the sanction remains in place pending its decision.
Ms Von Wedel qualified in 2000 and ran Ascot law firm K Law until the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) closed it down in 2020.
The SDT found that, in relation to client ‘RP’, she failed to redeem his mortgage until more than three months after completion, in breach of her undertaking and despite telling RP that she had.
When acting for another client, she failed to pay the stamp duty land tax due – while again dishonestly saying she had – or register the property in the 18 months before the firm was shut down.
The money to pay the tax were moved out of client account and not returned, leading to the SRA Compensation Fund having to pay out £135,000 to the client for those and other missing funds.
The SDT also found that, in both cases, Ms Von Wedel had moved the money she was holding out of client account without consent and into a French bank account, in breach of the SRA accounts rules.
She refused to explain why she did this, having not complied with a statutory SRA notice to provide information about the account. As a result, the SDT ruled she failed to co-operate with the regulator.
Further, Ms Von Wedel made 41 round-sum transfers totalling £182,005 from client account to office without any bills or paperwork to justify them. This too was dishonest.
The SDT noted that K Law was close to its overdraft limit when the transfers were made and Ms Von Wedel had confirmed in her evidence that she tended to run the firm close to the limit.
“Further, payments were being made from the office account for overheads and personal matters, which could not otherwise have been made had it not been for the client to office account transfers. Examples included polo fees, professional indemnity insurance and an MOT.”
In addition, she sent “offensive and threatening” messages to RP when he questioned her about redeeming the charge, including calling him a “spastick” and sending him a letter before action alleging defamation over his “untruthful, dishonest, made-up, evil remarks”.
She wrote that these had left her with “absolutely no other alternative but to protect my firm against such a purposeful mean destructive nasty deranged raging persistent brand new enemy of K Law solicitors” (sic).
In her evidence to the tribunal, Ms Von Wedel apologised for any offence she had caused by the word “spastick”. However, when it was put to her that the term was offensive and inappropriate, she went on to say that “in the context, it was perfect”.
The tribunal found that “the whole tenor and language used by Ms Von Wedel to RP was offensive and totally inappropriate for a solicitor to use to a client. The use of the word ‘spastick’ in particular was an utter disgrace”.
Her evidence that it was perfect in context “demonstrated a spectacular lack of insight”, it went on.
Other, threatening, language she used, and the “baseless threats” of High Court action, aimed to shut down RP’s “entirely justified” enquiries.
The SDT went on: “Even if RP had been difficult, as asserted by Ms Von Wedel but not established on the evidence before the tribunal, this would have been no justification whatsoever.”
In deciding to strike her off, the SDT said: “Ms Von Wedel’s motivation was multifaceted. It had started as a consequence of maladministration and personal pressures, and it grew from there. From that point onwards, the motivation was to mask her own mistakes.
“The tribunal accepted that Ms Von Wedel had initially been trying to provide a service to her clients. However, as matters got away from her she had doubled down and the situation spiralled as she sought to hide her actions and omissions.
“The misconduct therefore escalated and resulted in the use of client funds to prop up the firm financially and support her personal expenditure.”
As well as the two clients being “hugely disadvantaged”, the SDT said, “the damage to the reputation of the profession was horrendous”.
It went on: “There had been an element of bullying in relation to the correspondence with RP and there had been concealment of wrongdoing, by way of the false representation to the clients and to the solicitors engaged to try to resolve the clients’ issues.
“Ms Von Wedel had even sought to blame her clients, and their solicitors as well as banks for her own misconduct. She had also refused meaningfully to co-operate with the SRA.”
She was ordered to pay costs of £49,000.