Solicitor who considered herself “beyond regulation” is struck off

SDT: Multitude of aggravating factors

A solicitor who made false and misleading statements on applications for professional indemnity insurance (PII) – failing to mention that she had been investigated three times by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) – has been struck off and ordered to pay costs of over £124,000.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) said Katherine Alexander Theodotou “appeared to consider herself beyond regulation” despite her extensive experience.

Dr Theodotou, admitted in 2002, was principal of Highgate Hill Solicitors in London from 2005. She also has a Cypriot practice called K Theodotou LLC, of which she is principal.

The solicitor faced a raft of initial allegations from the SRA, including issuing group litigation proceedings without consent and, in relation to other litigation, seeking to charge improper additional fees and breaching the accounts rules.

She was also accused of failing to co-operate with the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) by not complying with a decision in 2017 to pay awards totalling £2,100 to four former clients for almost nine months and a decision in 2018 to pay £250 to a former client for almost eight months.

The allegations ranged in time from 2012 to 2019. During this period the SRA carried out three investigations into Highgate Hill Solicitors.

However, the SDT decided that a second set of allegations relating to her PII applications in 2020 and 2021, which involved accusations of dishonesty, should be heard first.

In the event, the tribunal stayed the initial allegations, granting the SRA liberty to restore, and did not consider them.

Dr Theodotou said she signed the 2020 PII form, and gave it to a member of staff, now deceased, who completed and submitted it to her insurance broker and broker, after which she “did not know any more about it”.

The tribunal rejected this explanation as “incredulous” and said it was “inconceivable” that the 2021 application form was completed by another member of staff, this time “a junior member of staff who worked part time on a Saturday”, based on the previous one.

The tribunal said Dr Theodotou did not dispute that there was no indication on either of the PII forms that her law firm had been the subject of forensic investigations and reports by the SRA, that LeO awards had been made against the firm in 2017 and 2018 and that the SDT proceedings had been issued a few weeks before she signed the first form.

It rejected any suggestion that the solicitor’s ill-health was a factor in relation to the 2020 form, as she had run her practice, reviewed 400 files per fortnight – as stated on the form – and managed a complex piece of litigation.

The sole practitioner was found to have acted dishonestly in making false and misleading statements on her PII forms.

Her position that she did not need to disclose the SRA’s forensic investigations – as she considered them to be “futile” and “as a Cypriot I do not acknowledge them” – was both “disingenuous and astounding”, while saying she was not required to disclose the SDT proceedings on the basis that nothing had been proven at that point was similarly “incredulous”.

In relation to the 2021 form, the documentary evidence plainly demonstrated the “active role” that Dr Theodotou played in completing it.

The SDT said there were “a multitude of aggravating features to the misconduct, namely in that it was dishonest, deliberate, calculated and repeated” and she “consistently sought to attribute blame on others for her non-disclosures”.

For Dr Theodotou to maintain in her oral evidence that she “did not believe she had done anything wrong and would not change the manner in which she completed” the forms showed “a complete lack of insight into her failings”.

“It was abundantly clear to the tribunal, having observed the manner in which she approached the tribunal proceedings and given her integral role in the Cypriot litigation [a major action concerning mis-sold property], that Dr Theodotou was able to clearly, rationally and strategically navigate proceedings.

“That could not be reconciled with the assertion that she could not see, did not understand or did not think that either PII [forms] were dishonestly completed.”

She had been given “numerous opportunities to correct the position” on both applications forms.

On costs, the SDT said the amount claimed by the SRA was “far higher than one would expect for a case of this nature”. However, the two sets of allegations were joined together and it was not unreasonable to instruct the same QC for both of them.

The proceedings were “not straightforward” due to the solicitor’s non-compliance with tribunal directions, change in legal representation shortly before the case management and the main hearings, applications for extensions of time and to adjourn and late service of “voluminous amounts of largely irrelevant material”.

Dr Theodotou was struck off and ordered to pay costs of £124,830.

    Readers Comments

  • Anonymous says:

    Surely the £124k costs is appealable – most of this is probably for the allegations that lie on file but which have not been proven.

  • Simon Lovat says:

    And no comments or positive outcome for the insurer who is still obliged to insure a firm where the SDT found out he proposer obtained insurance dishonestly, and the fine for the dishonest action goes to the regulator.

    Shouldn’t either the insurer get the fine or the regulator take on the liability?

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