Solicitor struck off over fictional wills & probate work
A solicitor has been struck off and ordered to pay £10,000 costs over allegations he billed clients for work he didn’t do.
David Michael Merrick had been a solicitor since 1981 but was suspended from his position in partnership at Crosse and Crosse Solicitors in December 2013.
According to the judgement issued by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, Mr Merrick raised several bills for three clients on wills and probate matters but never actually delivered the bills to the clients themselves. Instead, he withdrew money directly from client accounts, to the total of nearly £10,000.
Mr Merrick admitted dishonesty in billing one client for £594.62 “For work between 20th March 2012 to date…Partners [sic] time not less than 3 hours 6 minutes”. The time ledger contained no entries for any work done for this period.
In respect of the other six allegations, Mr Merrick “had no clear recollection due to the effects of a sailing accident which occurred subsequent to the material times” and had left him suffering with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as well as memory difficulties.
However Mr Merrick stated he did not intend to file any medical or factual evidence in support of this.
In delivering it’s sanction, the tribunal stated: “The motivation had been financial gain for the Firm, in which the Respondent was a Partner. The sums of money involved were not very high, but neither were they insignificant. The Respondent had used his position of trust, both in respect of the Firm and of his clients, to appropriate funds to which the Firm was not entitled. He was an experienced solicitor and this was a planned and sustained course of conduct.
“The harm caused was of the utmost seriousness. Individual clients had been the victims of unauthorised and improper withdrawal of their funds, in some cases repeatedly and in all cases dishonestly. This tarnished the profession and inflicted serious damage on its reputation.
“A further aggravating factor was the Respondent’s concealment of his wrong-doing from his clients as the bills were never delivered to them. The Tribunal accepted that the Respondent, by his admissions and his co-operation with the SRA, had demonstrated some insight into his conduct. However the misconduct was so serious that a Reprimand, Fine or Restriction Order would be insufficient to protect the public or the reputation of the profession. The only appropriate sanction to consider was a strike-off.
“The Tribunal considered whether any exceptional circumstances existed that could justify a suspension instead. The Respondent had described the effects of his sailing accident, although no supporting medical evidence had been provided. The Tribunal had some sympathy with his current predicament, however it did not amount to exceptional circumstances and it did not mitigate the misconduct, which pre-dated the accident. The Tribunal considered all the circumstances of this case and found that the protection of the public and the reputation of the profession demanded that the Respondent be struck off.”