Dishonest Probate Solicitor Took Vulnerable Beneficiary’s Money
A probate solicitor has been struck off after convincing a vulnerable client to part with £4,700 to pay for repairs to a property they had inherited but instead the money went straight into her personal bank account.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) did not believe Vidal Eulalie Martin’s account of the story, who was a sole practitioner and notary at V Martin Legal Services in Essex, where she claimed a cheque was completed and paid into her account and spent “entirely unbeknownst to her.”
The SDT are convinced that the only reason why she persuaded the client to give her the money was for “personal enrichment” and it transpired that she had given ambiguous accounts to a Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) investigation officer.
An investigation commenced following contact from the firm’s COLP in November 2015 where a report was presented which had “various concerns” about Ms Martin’s work on probate cases.
Another occasion whereby Ms Martin’s conduct came under fire was when she was administering the estate of a woman which included ownership of a property.
Back in 2010 Ms Martin was contacted by an estate agent to be informed that a frozen water tank had collapsed in the bathroom of the property causing a considerable amount of damage.
Not long after, Ms Martin and the residual beneficiary went around to inspect the damage, after which, they went back to the firm’s offices where the beneficiary wrote a cheque out for repairs, due to Ms Martin requesting it.
They were reliability claims made in the Tribunal of the beneficiary’s version of the event as Ms Martin had no recollection of the cheque until the SRA advised her of it. It was stated that it was “not believable” that Ms Martin would risk all her hard work in becoming a practitioner along with getting a regular income for her family just for £4,700.
Other evidence from Ms Martin consisted of the fact even though she works as a notary public, for which finances are kept completely separate from the business, unbeknown to her cheques are transferred on a regular basis to her personal bank account by staff at the firm.
The beneficiary was described as a “somewhat vulnerable witness” and found her evidence “generally unreliable”, but that not everything she said should be construed as false because in some instances there was evidence to back it up.
An example of this is where the date on which the beneficiary said she visited Ms Martin at the office was documented in the visitor book – but Ms Martin said they did not go back to the office.
The SDT described Ms Martin’s evidence as “hesitant, evasive and lacking credibility… Her own account had also changed over time; in ways the tribunal considered significant”.
Numerous accounts were presented to the tribunal on behalf of Ms Martin which were that it was the beneficiary’s decision to write the cheque for the repairs were “highly implausible”.
“With her salary at the time, the tribunal did not find it credible that the respondent was unaware of the cheque being paid into her account.
“Over £2,200 of the sum credited had been spent before the respondent’s next monthly salary was paid into her account.”
The SDT had found Ms Martin had acted with dishonesty in the probate case and said she had “given information and evidence according to her perceived interests” at different times.
She had also acted deceitful when giving untrue answers to the SRA over the cheque.
The SDT said Ms Martin’s main drive to get a cheque written out was “personal enrichment” and her “changes of position and statements which had been found to be misleading were more planned than spontaneous”.
The tribunal confirmed that the beneficiary was recompensed by her law firm’s insurer and not by Ms Martin.
Seven other allegations were made against Ms Martin, but the tribunal disallowed them which resulted in a reduction of costs approved to the SRA from the £106,000 it pursued to £47,500.