Solicitor avoids strike-off for disabled badge dishonesty

SDT: Endorsed the parties’ approach

A solicitor has been suspended for six months after being convicted of using a disabled parking badge with intent to deceive shortly after she qualified.

However, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) successfully argued that Nina Koushi should not be struck off because she was suffering from mental health problems, including “panic disorder”, at the time.

It said “the medical evidence supports the contention that the conduct was a moment of madness arising from [her] circumstances at the time”.

In an agreed outcome approved by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT), the SRA said the misconduct occurred in November 2019, when Ms Koushi was an associate at McMillan Williams (now part of Taylor Rose MW), and based in Ealing, West London.

Ms Koushi, admitted in September 2019, was running late and parked her Mercedes in a space allocated to the firm at its office building but knew she would have to move it later.

In mitigation placed before the SDT, she said that, to “her surprise”, the partner she had worked with over the previous three years announced he was leaving the firm with immediate effect.

“This led to a series of crisis meetings being arranged throughout the day and [she] was highly emotional and extremely stressed by this announcement.

“At this point the respondent remembered that she had to move her car and then return to the office as quickly as possible.

“Unfortunately, as she drove around looking for a space she was unable to find a space and she started to panic as she needed to get back to the office.

“In a moment of panic and without thinking about the consequences she used the disabled person’s badge, that had been left in her car, to park in a disabled bay.”

Ms Koushi said she found the badge “amongst a quantity of letters” between the passenger seat and car door.

“At the time she could not recall or understand where these came from. She now recalls that the previous day she gave her father a lift after he had cleared out the communal area of a block of flats and understands that he must have left the badge, along with the letters in her car.”

A fraud investigator and a parking officer from Ealing Council checked the badge while they were on duty in the area and found it had been issued to a man born in 1957 and later cancelled.

They recorded that, returning to the car, the solicitor told them the badge was her father’s before saying it belonged to her “friend’s dad”.

Ms Koushi was reported to have told the council officers: “I only used it today because the badge was left in my car by a mutual friend.

“I wasn’t aware I wasn’t allowed to use it. I am a solicitor and an officer of the court and if I knew I couldn’t use it, I wouldn’t absolutely have used it, as I wouldn’t put my legal career in jeopardy. I didn’t know it was fraud.”

Ms Koushi appeared at Ealing Magistrates’ Court in February 2020, where she entered a guilty plea to using a disabled person’s blue badge with intent to deceive.

She was fined £1,125 and ordered her to pay costs of £690, with a victim surcharge of £181.

Ms Kouhi admitted acting dishonestly, both in using the badge and what she said to the council officers.

She said she was “deeply ashamed and embarrassed by her actions and acknowledges that she has disappointed herself, her family and her profession. Her actions do not reflect the values of the way she was raised”.

The SRA accepted that she was suffering from “moderate to severe mixed anxiety and depressive disorder” and “panic disorder” and that these were ‘exceptional circumstances’ meaning that a strike-off – the usual result in dishonesty cases – was disproportionate.

The tribunal said it “accepted and endorsed the approach, analysis and sanction proposed by the parties”.

Ms Kouhi was suspended for six months and ordered to pay £2,300 in costs.

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