Suspended solicitor who “went too far” is struck off

SDT: Principal’s misconduct was by omission

A solicitor who admitted that he “had gone too far and had done too much” by practising while suspended has been struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).

The SDT acknowledged that Rodney William Noon’s misconduct was not financially motivated and instead was “guided by his loyalty” to his law firm and its clients.

Martin Keith Waters, principal of Arrans in Halifax, was suspended by the tribunal for six months for making “no effort” to ensure that Mr Noon complied with the terms of his suspension – he said he thought the solicitor could carry out paralegal-type activities during that period.

Mr Noon told the tribunal he had not earned anything by acting for Client A in a building construction dispute and paid for counsel to represent her “using his own funds which he knew would not be reimbursed”. However, he accepted that Client A was “not aware of his status”.

Mr Noon, admitted in 1985, worked for Arrans as a consultant from June 2013 to October 2018.

He was suspended by the SDT in March 2015 for three months after admitting that, while previously working as a sole practitioner, he had failed to obtain authorisation, failed to deliver an accountant’s report for his firm and failed to co-operate with the Legal Ombudsman.

The SDT ordered that the period of his suspension run from 7 April to 7 July 2015.

It was not until December 2017 that the representative of another law firm, acting in a negligence claim for Client A, told the SRA that it had evidence that Mr Noon had practised while suspended.

The SRA told the tribunal that he had prepared and filed a directions questionnaire on behalf of Client A, corresponded with solicitors for the other party and prepared instructions to an expert in accordance with a court order.

He had also instructed counsel to represent Client A at a case management conference, visited Client A at her home to take instructions in relation to the litigation and on 7 July, the final day of his suspension, filed an application notice, amended defence, draft order and court fee with the county court.

The SDT said Mr Noon told the SRA in April 2018 that he had carried out “purely unpaid clerical or administrative tasks in relation to Client A’s case”, when in fact he had been carrying out reserved legal services.

Mr Noon admitted to the tribunal that he had practised while suspended and acted dishonestly in failing to tell Client A that he was suspended and by knowingly providing inaccurate information to the SRA.

He further admitted not telling the SRA he was employed by a law firm while subject to a condition requiring him to obtain the regulator’s approval.

Prior to his suspension in 2015, Mr Noon had appeared before the tribunal in 2012, this time for failing to co-operate with the SRA, failing to carry out clients’ instructions and accounts rule breaches. He was fined £9,000.

Striking him off this time, the SDT said he had paid “little regard to what was a serious sanction and had placed his loyalty above his regulatory responsibilities”.

Mr Waters admitted allowing Mr Noon to act for Client A when he knew the solicitor was suspended.

The SDT said a solicitor acting with integrity would have ensured he was aware what work Mr Noon could carry out while suspended, but Mr Waters did not.

He further admitted allowing a cash shortage of over £384,000 to exist on client account and failing to replace it promptly.

This was caused by the actions of a paralegal at a time when Mr Waters was away from the office, recovering from being assaulted.

He did not have a plan in place for what should happen in his absence and accepted he should have appointed a senior locum to look after the practice.

Mr Waters admitted failing to ensure his firm had effective systems to manage compliance risks in relation to two conveyancing transactions and failing in his role as COFA to ensure that his employees complied with the accounts rules. This lacked integrity, the SDT said.

The tribunal concluded that Mr Waters’ conduct was mainly the result of omission rather than positive acts: he “had made no effort” to ensure that Mr Noon complied with the terms of his suspension and had “abdicated” his regulatory responsibilities.

“He was the sole principal and COFA of the firm, yet he allowed the firm to continue to operate with no proper supervision, and no proper systems in place.”

The shortage had arisen in December 2017 but not been rectified in full until October 2019.

Mr Waters was suspended for six months and ordered to pay costs of £15,000. Following the end of his suspension, he will be subject to conditions for three years preventing him from being a sole practitioner or law firm manager, from being a COLP or COFA and from holding client money.

Mr Waters was ordered to pay costs of £15,000 and Mr Noon £6,000.

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