A solicitor who misled his client about the progress of her employment claim and then sent the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) fabricated documents to back up his position has been struck off.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) heard that Isidore Ikechukwu Chukwudolue forged a client-care letter and attendance notes, and even obtained witness statements from colleagues which stated that ‘Client A’ had attended the office when he knew that she had not.
Mr Chukwudolue, admitted in 2008, was employed as a solicitor at Moorehouse Solicitors in North London.
Client A attended the firm’s offices in July 2017, where the solicitor advised her that she had been unfairly dismissed and subjected to racial discrimination. She signed a conditional fee agreement and agreed to pay £300 to the firm.
For the next 16 months he either told Client A that he had submitted the claim to the employment tribunal when in fact he had not – on one occasion saying “I have called them several times and was told that they have an immense backlog due to the fact that they are flooded with many cases” – or ignored her texts and emails chasing for updates and complaining about the service she was receiving.
Client A instructed Truth Legal in November 2018 to obtain her file from Moorhouse Solicitors with a view to making a professional negligence claim.
However, Mr Chukwudolue then submitted the claim in January 2019, even though he was no longer instructed. This contained several errors.
Truth Legal complained to the SRA about Mr Chukwudolue in February 2019. The file sent by his firm to the regulator contained several documents that the one Truth Legal had received did not, including a client-care letter and various attendance notes, including two purporting to relate to meetings with Client A in January 2019, during which she was said to have apologised for not being in contact sooner.
Asked to provide the metadata for these, which would show when they were created, the solicitor told the SRA: “Unfortunately, we do not have a system that records metadata or any other electronic means/properties of saving documents.”
However, before the tribunal, he admitted acting dishonestly in fabricating this set of documents, along with the other allegations.
His counsel argued in mitigation that Client A had only paid the firm £300 and Mr Chukwudolue made no personal gain from his misconduct. “He panicked as he was under mental strain at the time and experiencing difficult personal circumstances.”
She urged the SDT to suspend him, rather than strike him off, describing it as “a one-off incident that had taken place over a short period of time. It had started out as innocuous but had grown into something more serious”.
It could be safely assumed that the misconduct was a “flash in the pan”, she claimed.
However, the tribunal said that while there was “seemingly no initial motivation” for failing to submit the employment claim, after that he was motivated by the desire to conceal his failings.
Assessing the solicitor’s culpability as “extremely high” and the damage to the profession through his misconduct as “immense”, the SDT said Mr Chukwudolue “deliberately and calculatedly sought to mislead the SRA”.
It added: “Whilst he had made late admissions, he had, in his pleadings echoed the position in the fabricated documents namely that he had not committed misconduct as the failure to file the claim form arose from Client A’s failure to instruct him to do so.”
There were no exceptional circumstances to justify a departure from the usual position in cases of dishonesty that the solicitor be struck off.
The SRA sought costs of £23,550, but the tribunal made no order because his means indicated that there was no reasonable prospect of Mr Chukwudolue being able to pay any of it within a reasonable period of time.