A solicitor who forged signatures to transfer a property without authority in order to cover up a mistake he feared would lose his firm an important client, has been struck off.
In an outcome agreed with the Solicitors Regulation Authority and approved by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, Eliot Lopian accepted the punishment and admitted several charges of dishonest professional misconduct.
He claimed he had been suffering from stress and strain due to the illness of a close relative, but did not seek to argue there were exceptional circumstances that might enable him to avoid being struck off.
Mr Lopian, who was born in 1983 and admitted in 2009, was a principal solicitor for virtual firm Gunnercooke.
He tried to undo an error committed by another member of his team that resulted in the whole of a piece of land being transferred from his client instead of part of it.
He compounded the misconduct by later claiming he did not know how it had happened.
The solicitor had initially mistakenly submitted form TR1 to HM Land Registry (HMLR) without the knowledge of the purchasers, who had signed the correct form TP1.
About six weeks later, in September 2017, he secretly attempted to transfer the property back to his client by signing a TR1 form using each of the three purchasers names. He informed HMLR the purchasers had agreed to transfer the property back for no consideration.
However, HMLR responded that the transfer could not take place because an official search was in process – it had been made by a company that had agreed to buy the remainder of the larger plot.
Meanwhile, Mr Lopian had advised the architects representing the purchasers of the smaller plot of the error and said it would be rectified. Due to issues with access to that plot, the purchasers resisted signing any rectifying TR1 form until these had been resolved.
Some six months later, when asked by the architects to explain how the return of the larger plot had been executed, Mr Lopian denied that he knew.
In mitigation, the solicitor said he was the only qualified solicitor in his department. While he had not made the initial error in enclosing the wrong form, he had made a similar mistake some weeks earlier and feared both the loss of his department’s only client and his job if he came clean.
He submitted that when he fabricated the form TR1, he had been suffering from “significant stress and strain”; that a close family member had been diagnosed with cancer and had received bad news about their treatment at the time.
The tribunal approved striking off as an appropriate sanction given the seriousness of the misconduct, noting that his conduct was plainly dishonest.
It ordered that he pay £2,500 towards costs.