A solicitor who repeatedly lied to a client’s husband after overlooking the wife’s potential compensation claim has been struck off.
Lisa Dawn Noonan, an assistant solicitor at St Helens firm Rushton Hinchy Solicitors, took instructions from the client in March 2007 in connection with a potential criminal injuries compensation claim relating to a robbery that took place at the client’s home in February that year.
Following the meeting, Noonan did not open a new matter file and register the claim on the firm’s case management system, according to a judgment published by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.
She did not realise the omission until after the second anniversary of the incident, by which date the limitation period for bringing the claim had expired.
Noonan reported the matter via an email to her supervising partner and the firm’s compliance officer for legal practice in March 2014. The matter was then brought to the attention of the Solicitors Regulation Authority by the COLP.
The regulator obtained copies of emails and texts exchanged between Noonan and the client’s husband between November 2009 and March 2014 that showed her making various statements concerning the purported progress of his wife’s claim.
The judgment states that Noonan, who denied dishonesty, did not know why she had not set up a file, and that it was an isolated incident.
‘The respondent stated that when she was on maternity leave she did not have the daily chaos of her working life and had the opportunity to think,’ the judgment says.
‘The respondent rejected the assertion that she had owned up in 2014 because she was backed into a corner by the client. She was not a dishonest person and ironically all her friends would say that she was too honest.’
Speaking on her behalf at the hearing in November, her brother, Steven Noonan, said she had been struggling with personal issues that affected her judgement.
Her office hours, Noonan’s brother added, were 9am-5.30pm, but she stayed later most days, took work home and worked at the weekends. Towards the end of 2009 Noonan had approximately 465 files.
Her brother submitted that she had ‘owned up to what she had done having gained perspective and insight into her behaviour while she was on maternity leave. She might have chosen to cover her tracks and pay off the clients in order to make the claim go away but instead she shared everything with her employer. She resigned from her post and walked away from her career’.
Her brother said Noonan was ‘genuinely sorry and regretful to have her integrity and honesty questioned and to have put her client, her employer and her profession in this position’.
The tribunal said it was prepared to accept that the first exchange with the client’s husband ‘might have been spontaneous’ but exchanges that followed were ‘calculated, planned and part of a sequence over a significant period of time. The repeated lying to the client’s husband constituted a breach of trust’.
The tribunal took into account that Noonan, admitted in 2006, was newly qualified when the misconduct started and that she did not have litigation experience in this particular type of work.
However, dishonesty had been proved, the tribunal said. Noonan ‘persevered in a series of untruthful emails and texts in exchanges with the lay client’s husband. This went to the heart of a solicitor’s duty’.
The tribunal did not find Noonan to be a ‘dishonest person in character but she had perpetrated a series of dishonest acts over a long period’.
The misconduct ‘had not been a moment of madness’, the tribunal added. The ‘very difficult circumstances’ Noonan had experienced in her personal life did not constitute ‘exceptional’ circumstances.
The tribunal ordered Noonan to be struck off the roll and pay costs of £2,276.92.