A Herefordshire law firm has welcomed a two-year jail sentence imposed on a former partner who tried to cover up her theft of £50,000 from probate matters by placing fake letters and copy cheques on their files, and making false entries in client ledgers.
Yvonne Ruth Painter was jailed at Worcester Crown Court over her actions at Caldicott Gallimore, where she had been the compliance officer for legal practice. She was struck off the roll of solicitors in October 2014.
She was one of two partners at the firm, and over two years misappropriated the funds via 14 cheques made out to herself and her husband, as well as to her creditors and creditors of the firm.
HHJ Randall was reported by the local media to have told her: “We live in an age when people question authority and others in positions of authority but thankfully most people consider that solicitors are honest. Most people consult solicitors, being quite sure that whatever else might happen their solicitor will behave honestly and properly. You failed in that respect and failed quite badly.
“Over the space of over two years you took from this relatively small practice £50,000. That was the most severe and gross breach of trust on the part of anyone who was then entitled to call themselves and should have been proud to call themselves a solicitor. It’s difficult to imagine a more serious breach of trust.”
In a statement, Caldicott Gallimore said: “Solicitors hold a unique position of trust in society, Yvonne Painter abused that position of trust and it is right that her crimes should be made public and that she should be punished accordingly.
“Not only did Mrs Painter abuse the trust that clients had placed in her, she abused the trust and good will of her business partner and her colleagues.”
The firm, which has two partners again and offices in Leominster and Hereford, said all client funds have been restored and that no client had lost out as a result of Mrs Painter’s offending.
It continued: “Mrs Painter’s fraud was uncovered following our own routine internal financial checks and immediately reported to our regulator. We have worked tirelessly in conjunction with the police and the Solicitors Regulation Authority in investigating these offences and ensuring that our clients have not suffered any detriment as a result of Mrs Painter’s crimes.
“Since April 2013 we have further strengthened our financial controls and have improved our governance in every area of our practice so that our clients can have full confidence in our abilities to deliver first-class legal advice and representation and our ability to maintain a business worthy of their trust.
Mrs Painter started her professional career in accountancy before qualifying as a solicitor in 2009. She told the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal last year that she should not have joined Caldicott Gallimore as a partner immediately upon qualifying.