A solicitor kept money meant for counsel for several months, altered the date of a fee note from his chambers and then pleaded with her boss to hide it from the regulator.
Maria Williams claimed in mitigation before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal that she was suffering from “impaired physical and mental health for some time” but accepted that it did not excuse her conduct and that she should be struck off.
Ms Williams, 60, qualified in 1999 and at the time was a consultant solicitor at Manchester firm John Poyser Solicitors.
The tribunal approved the agreement that she be struck off reached by Ms Williams and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) after she admitted three offences and that she had acted dishonestly.
In July 2017, Ms Williams asked for and received £4,500 in cash from a client in order to discharge barristers’ fees in three probate-related matters. She paid £2,500 of it into the firm’s client account, but it took eight months for the other £2,000 to be paid to counsel and then it was from her personal bank account.
Ms Williams altered a fee note from 18 St John Street Chambers in order to make it look like the £2,000 had been paid in July 2017, when in fact she did not transfer the money until March 2018.
Then, in December 2018, she texted Mr Poyser to ask him to remove from the altered fee note from the documents he was sending to the SRA.
She said including the note “will make thing [sic] difficult for me” as she had not told the SRA that she tried to cover up her action. This would her case “to another level”, Ms Williams said.
Mr Poyser ignored the message and sent it to the SRA anyway.
He told the regulator that the firm’s money laundering policy was not to accept cash of more than £1,000.
The tribunal said: “Her misconduct caused irreparable harm to the reputation of the legal profession, breached the fundamental tenet that all solicitors should be capable of being trusted to the ends of the earth and was incompatible with her continued inclusion on the roll of solicitors,” it said.
It also ordered that she pay costs of £3,678.
This was Ms Williams’ second appearance before the tribunal, having been suspended for a year in 2006 for accounts rules breaches.