Solicitor struck off after charging excessive estate costs

A solicitor who ignored court instructions to repay money gained from overcharging on estates has been struck off.

Despite an assessment showing that he was only entitled to charge £8,000, in November 2012, Michael John Elsdon transferred nearly £40,000 from his client to office account.

Mr Elsdon did not take any steps to reimburse the estate, despite two ruling from the High Court which confirmed the smaller amount.

Having charged for the unpaid disbursement, Mr Elsdon was found to have been dishonest and was banned after a two-day hearing in December, which took place at the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.

The prosecution costs came to almost £97,000 which the solicitor was ordered to pay.

Mr Elsdon had been a director of firm Sai-Donne in Davon and had worked as a sole practitioner. In 2008, following the death of a client, he was named as a co-executor of their will, with the estate to pass to the client’s three children in equal shares.

Reaching a total sum of £50,701, Elsdon created three invoices which covered a 30-month period. This was completed by the end of July 2011 and the cost was based on an initial hourly rate of £250 and then £275.

Whilst two of the client’s children did not challenge the costs charged by Elsdon, the third – Mr L – refused to agree to the charges and subsequently brought the issue to court for assessment.

Noting that the hourly rate charged by Mr Elsdon was “excessive”, Master Gordon-Saker assessed his costs at £8,000 in November 2012.

Eight days after this, however, Mr Elsdon transferred five times the assessed amount to the office account. This was despite email correspondence which confirmed he was aware he was not entitled to exceed the £8,000 mark.

Prosecuting, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) stated that Mr Elsdon’s conduct amounted to a “continuing and consistent breach of duty” to the client’s estate.

After being suspected of dishonesty in a matter of probate, the SRA had intervened into Mr Elsdon’s practice. In 2015, the High Court ruled this as the right thing to have been done at the time.

Mr Elsdon had been motivated by “personal financial gain with an undercurrent of greed” according to the tribunal judgement. It also highlighted that even a solicitor who was not experienced would have realised that the situation was wrong.

The tribunal went on to note the damaging nature of Mr Elsdon’s conduct in regards to the profession, and how the impact of the misconduct had been significant.

Without identification of mitigating factors or exceptional circumstances, the tribunal felt that striking Mr Elsdon off was the only justifiable sanction.

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