Solicitor struck off over LPA signature short-cuts


LPAs: Solicitor cut corners

A solicitor who submitted two lasting powers of attorney (LPAs) to the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) showing she had witnessed the donor’s signatures – when she had not – has been struck off.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) said it found the case of Krystel Marzan “to be a troubling one on many levels”.

Whilst at the time of the misconduct she did not have a great deal of experience, “she had set up a business in which she purported to be an expert in LPAs”, it said.

“The tribunal entreats solicitors starting out in the profession and within all specific areas of practice to thoroughly learn their craft before espousing to the public expertise they do not yet possess.

“It is important to speak to and take advice from more experienced colleagues to obtain insight upon the risk from departing from correct and appropriate procedures. Failure to do so, will have adverse consequences upon the client and ultimately rebound upon the solicitor.”

Ms Marzan, 41, qualified in 2014. Between March 2014 and August 2018, she was a director of unregulated legal practice Information Officers Ltd.

She handled LPAs on behalf of the donor, which were signed in August 2015 and then registered. In July 2016, the solicitor submitted further applications to appoint additional attorneys, which the OPG registered.

However, following investigations into the management of the donor’s finances and creation of the LPAs, the Court of Protection cancelled them in February 2021.

The OPG also referred Ms Marzan to the SRA – while the donor’s signatures in the July LPAs were dated and witnessed by her in August 2015, the OPG discovered that the decision to appoint the extra attorneys was only made in January 2016.

She told the tribunal that she did witness the signatures of the donor in August 2015 but may have asked the donor to sign several copies so that she had spares in case of any errors.

She denied acting without integrity or dishonestly, saying she sought the donor’s consent to use the spares, but accepted that she ought to have submitted entirely fresh versions.

The SDT rejected her account, finding it “confusing and vague”. It found Ms Marzan knew she had not witnessed the donor’s signatures, and that these were not ‘presigned spares’, because she had reminded the attorney in e-mails to have the donor sign the LPAs. This was dishonest, it went on.

Even if she had used a pre-signed version, “this too would not have been acceptable practice, as the donor would not be signing the relevant form with all the applicable details”.

In August 2019, Ms Marzan joined Richard Nelson Solicitors as a consultant. Her employment was terminated 11 months later after it found out about the SRA’s LPAs investigation and the firm then discovered that she had pre-signed various conveyancing documents – such as mortgage deeds, personal guarantees and occupiers’ consent forms – as a witness without the clients signing them in her presence.

She explained to the SRA: “On a few occasions when time was of the essence and more so when the Covid-19 pandemic was affecting the postal service, I would witness the client sign a document as allowed for on video call. I then wait for the client to email me their signed version before I counter sign and email it bark to them.

“If the client required a hard copy with my wet signature (rare these days as electronic copies are widely accepted), we would exchange our documents in the post. Whoever received the other’s first could then sign again and forward on to the third party (if required).”

The SDT found that this was not the correct practice and that, by repeatedly signing legal documents purporting to have been witnessed by her, she breached various rules and acted with a lack of integrity.

However, she had not been dishonest. Ms Marzan “had laboured under a fundamental misconception of what had been required”, believing that she had been present when her client had signed the document.

“When cross-examined about the risk of fraud, she said that she had never given any thought to such risk. The tribunal accepted this evidence.

“The respondent appeared to be genuinely nonplussed when the loopholes and risk of fraud which were an inherent danger in her remote signing procedure had been pointed out to her.”

The SDT said it made no comment on the reasonableness of Ms Marzan’s belief, “just that it was genuinely held”.

In deciding sanction, the SDT found that her motivation was “to get the work done for her clients in the shortest time, for her and for them, and at the cheapest cost”.

It explained: “Inevitably this resulted in corner cutting and the respondent developing her own procedures which were seriously deficient and left her clients at risk of having an invalid deed or document.”

She had a hitherto unblemished record but “regrettably, the tribunal had seen no evidence of insight from the respondent who had told the tribunal in evidence that she would continue with the practices identified as deficient”.

It added: “The tribunal was therefore very concerned that the respondent had little or no appreciation of the risk in not following recommended procedures in areas of practice where her clients were at their most vulnerable and in need of help.”

It rejected Ms Marzan’s argument that there were exceptional circumstances which meant it should not apply the usual sanction of strike-off in cases of dishonesty.

“The dishonesty had been woven into a thought-out process of corner cutting, with the respondent calculating that the defectively witnessed documents would be accepted by the OPG at face value without any checking.

“The failure of the documents to be validly executed had, potentially, catastrophic ramifications. The protection of the public and public confidence in the profession and the reputation of the profession required no lesser sanction than that the respondent be removed from the roll.”

She was also ordered to pay the SRA costs of £19,453.




Leave a Comment

By clicking Submit you consent to Legal Futures storing your personal data and confirm you have read our Privacy Policy and section 5 of our Terms & Conditions which deals with user-generated content. All comments will be moderated before posting.

Required fields are marked *
Email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Blog


Shocking figures suggest divorce lawyers need to do more for clients

There are so many areas where professional legal advice requires complementary financial planning and one that is too frequently overlooked is on separation or divorce.


Is it time to tune back into radio marketing?

How many people still listen to the radio? More than you might think, it seems. Official figures show that 88% of UK adults tuned in during the last quarter of 2023 for an average of 20.5 hours each week.


Use the tools available to stop doing the work you shouldn’t be doing anyway

We are increasingly taken for granted in the world of Do It Yourself, in which we’re required to do some of the work we have ostensibly paid for, such as in banking, travel and technology


Loading animation