A solicitor who deceived his firm and his clients for 13 months into thinking that he was pursuing their group employment tribunal (ET) claims, when in fact they had been struck out because of his inactivity, has been removed from the profession.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) struck off Jean Etienne Attala, born in 1964 and admitted in 1991, saying his was “a particularly serious case of dishonesty”. He was also called to the Bar in 1994.
Mr Attala was a senior executive working in the employment department of trade union firm Thompsons and had conduct of ET proceedings that followed the closure of a site in Sunderland, with 106 claimants seeking to recover unpaid redundancy pay and 754 notice pay.
In September 2011, the ET told him that it was considering striking out the proceedings as they were not being actively pursued. Mr Attala replied that he was seeking instructions – which, it turned out later, he was not – but did not subsequently provide a substantive response. This led to the claims being struck out, a decision upheld on review in March 2012.
Nonetheless, between June 2012 and July 2013, Mr Attala sent a number of e-mails and letters to his clients and their union, the GMB, that indicated the case was ongoing, to the point where he told them that the ET’s decision was “with the judge” for signature.
Following an enquiry by a number of clients via the GMB, Mr Attala’s team manager sought to review the file. Mr Attala initially said that the claims had been withdrawn on instructions and resisted disclosing the file, but eight days later admitted what had happened.
He told his manager: “The current position is due to my own misjudgement of the situation, blind panic and inability to ask for help. I cannot excuse what had happened and I do not seek to do so.”
He admitted to having lied to his manager for a long time, and misled both the GMB and its members. Some weeks later, he was summarily dismissed by Thompsons.
Before the SDT, Mr Attala admitted all the allegations, including dishonesty, made against him. The prosecutor for the Solicitors Regulation Authority told the tribunal that what Mr Attala had done “went beyond lying… [he] had effected a complete cover-up of his activity not only regarding the union, the individual clients and the firm but also regarding the ET, to which he had written twice indicating that he was progressing the claims by way of gathering evidence when the firm’s internal systems showed that was not the case”.
By way of mitigation, Mr Attala said he had been suffering with depression at the time, and that this had affected his decision making and ability to think clearly. But he did not contend that this was reason for a sanction short of striking-off.
The SDT agreed, saying there were no exceptional circumstances that would mitigate strike off as the appropriate sanction.
A spokesman for Thompsons said: “When someone lies and covers their tracks it is very difficult to uncover the deceit. Thompsons regrets Mr Attalla’s behaviour and immediately on it being discovered made sure that none of the affected members lost out, and took action against Mr Attala. Our supervision systems are regularly reviewed and this incident fed into that ongoing process.”