Partner lied to new firm about drink-driving convictions

SDT: Solicitor’s denials that he read key documents rejected

A solicitor who lied to Keystone Law about drink-drive convictions as well as investigations into his conduct when he joined the listed law firm has been struck off.

Construction lawyer Neelash Mehta, 52, was convicted of drink driving in 2016 and 2018, and admitted to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) that he had driven while disqualified in 2019.

He qualified in 2004 and at the time of the first conviction was a partner at Bristol firm TLT. In 2018, he joined Ashfords in Exeter as a partner before becoming a Keystone consultant in June 2020. He left at the end of August 2021.

The SDT heard that, while at Ashfords and still disqualified, Mr Mehta made two expenses claims for mileage, totalling £64.

He signed the declaration on the claim forms confirming that he held a valid driving licence and car insurance, and did not comply with the firm’s expenses policy requiring him to disclose prosecutions for motoring offences.

When Ashfords became aware that he was disqualified, Mr Mehta said his wife had driven the car both times.

Mr Mehta said he had not disclosed the disqualification because he considered it a personal matter which did not affect his work. He also claimed that he had not read the expenses policy.

The SDT rejected Mr Mehta’s account that his secretary had handled the expenses claims and that he had neither seen, read nor signed the forms. It found his conduct dishonest.

Ashfords also reported him to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), which began an investigation.

The contract with Keystone required Mr Mehta’s personal service company to warrant that he had no criminal convictions and had not been subject to disciplinary procedures or investigation by any former firm or the SRA.

He signed this, telling the SDT that he had only read the payment terms in the contract because it was in standard form and would not be amended.

The SDT, however, did not believe that Mr Mehta failed to read the whole contract and again said he had been dishonest. “He was an extremely experienced lawyer who would regularly scrutinise contracts as part of his everyday work.

“The tribunal did not accept that Mr Mehta viewed this contract in the same way that he would view a contract for the provision of domestic utilities.”

It went on: “The tribunal, whilst not ascribing to [the SRA counsel’s] definition of Mr Mehta as a chancer, found that he considered himself to be free of the network of obligations that all other solicitors were bound by.

“It did not find Mr Mehta to be a credible witness; his evidence was changeable and varied on occasion so as to enable him to answer the difficult questions put.”

In mitigation, Mr Mehta’s advocate said he was “ashamed” of the convictions. “He had overcome the issues he had with alcohol at that time that had led to his offending… He had turned his life around and had a number of redeeming qualities.”

But the SDT determined that, given that its findings of dishonesty, a strike-off was the appropriate sanction.

Mr Mehta’s misconduct was “motivated by self-preservation”, it said. “He wished to maintain his reputation and income at Ashfords and did not want to jeopardise his ability to continue to earn money with Keystones…

“His conduct was a complete departure from the standards of integrity probity and trustworthiness expected of solicitors.”

Mr Mehta was also ordered to pay costs of £27,000.

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