A solicitor who sent “inappropriate, derogatory and offensive emails” to a client and his mother has been censured by the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal (SSDT).
The tribunal heard that comments made by Ross James Porter, who described his client as a “sad and pathetic man”, were “particularly offensive” because the client had mental health problems.
Mr Porter was instructed by the client, ‘Mr A’, in December 2013 to advise on a dispute with a letting agent. At that time the solicitor was a sole practitioner, based in Perth.
Mr A said his mother also wanted to instruct Mr Porter, in this case to deal with a complaint about a builder. Mr Porter obtained legal aid for both cases in February 2014.
The SSDT heard that the relationship broke down and Mr Porter sent “emails of an unpleasant nature” to Mr A and his mother.
In April 2014, Mr A sent the solicitor an email saying he had a first-class degree in psychology and “extensive psychotherapy training”.
Mr A went on: “Your behaviour suggests that you are the one with issues… of that there is no doubt. I think you may have anger management issues with attendant cognitive functioning difficulties.
“If you want a bit of advice with it, we can perhaps come to an arrangement.”
This triggered a furious response from the solicitor, who said neither he nor “anyone who has actually been to university” would be impressed by his degree.
Describing psychology as “not exactly hard to get into”, Mr Porter asked Mr A how many ‘C’ grades he needed to get on the course and what he had done with his degree given that he was unemployed.
“As a result of the various mental health issues which you clearly have, you are weighed down by the enormous chip on your shoulder.
“You are obviously unemployable, or lazy or stupid – probably all three. You are a sad and pathetic man. In order to bolster your ego and sense of self-worth you are argumentative, arrogant, pedantic and literal, the last vestiges of a fool.”
Mr Porter said Mr A seemed to enjoy “taking swipes at those of us who are at least trying to do something productive with our lives”, however unsuccessful they may be in his eyes.
“If you wish me to take you or your comments seriously, get a job. Even if you swept the streets or cleaned toilets I would have some respect for you, but clearly you are not even up to that.
“I’m glad I won’t have to deal with you further and I pity anyone who does.”
Mr Porter, who represented himself at the hearing, said the emails in question were written over a period of less than 24 hours in April 2014.
He told the tribunal he was a sole practitioner with no support staff, who did “everything himself”, working long hours late at night and at weekends, doing primarily civil and criminal legal aid work.
The tribunal noted: “He experienced cash-flow problems. He had to borrow money from family. He was exhausted and under stress. He was also dealing with a long-term illness which made him vulnerable in circumstances where he was under stress and not sleeping well.”
Mr Porter said he was now aged 56, had not worked as a solicitor since October 2016 and had “no interest in returning to the profession”.
The tribunal concluded that Mr Porter’s misconduct was “a serious and reprehensible departure from the standards of competent and reputable solicitors and therefore constituted professional misconduct”.
It took place during a 24-hour period in an otherwise unblemished career, while the solicitor had “demonstrated remorse and insight” and offered to meet and apologise to Mr A.
On the scale of wrongdoing, Mr Porter’s misconduct was “at the lower end” and a censure was appropriate.