A former senior partner who charged clients for work that had not been done has been struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).
The tribunal described the harm caused by David Michael Merrick, who had been a partner at Exeter firm Crosse & Crosse, as being “of the utmost seriousness”.
He was suspended by the firm in December 2013 and has not practiced there since.
Prosecuting, the Solicitors Regulation Authority put forward a series of wills and probate matters for three clients where Mr Merrick had raised bills, but the firm’s time records showed no work had been done.
He also did not actually deliver the bills to the clients, but instead withdrew the money directly from their client accounts, totaling nearly £10,000 between them.
Mr Merrick, who was born in 1955 and qualified in 1981, admitted one of the offences, and that he had acted dishonestly, but otherwise had no clear recollection “due to the effects of a sailing accident which occurred subsequent to the material times”, the SDT recorded. Mr Merrick told the tribunal that this had left him with post-traumatic stress disorder as well as memory difficulties.
The SDT found all the other allegations proven and that the solicitor had acted dishonestly. Mr Merrick had not contested them and accepted from an early stage that he would be struck off, it said.
Deciding to do just that, the tribunal said: “The motivation had been financial gain for the firm, in which the respondent was a partner. The sums of money involved were not very high, but neither were they insignificant.
“The respondent had used his position of trust, both in respect of the firm and of his clients, to appropriate funds to which the firm was not entitled. He was an experienced solicitor and this was a planned and sustained course of conduct.
“The harm caused was of the utmost seriousness. Individual clients had been the victims of unauthorised and improper withdrawal of their funds, in some cases repeatedly and in all cases dishonestly. This tarnished the profession and inflicted serious damage on its reputation…
“A further aggravating factor was the respondent’s concealment of his wrong-doing from his clients as the bills were never delivered to them.”
Though Mr Merrick had shown “some insight” into his conduct, a strike-off was required to protect both the public and the reputation of the profession, the tribunal concluded. It also ordered him to pay £10,000 in costs.