The disciplinary case against ex-Baker McKenzie bosses resumed in a virtual courtroom today, with the firm’s former HR director saying he played no part in disciplining Gary Senior for alleged sexual harassment and that he was unhappy with the fallout of Senior’s ‘reprehensible’ behaviour.
Respondent Martin Blackburn told the tribunal that he played an ‘entirely passive’ role in sanctioning the former London managing partner, who is accused of trying to embrace and kiss a junior colleague in a hotel room in 2012 despite receiving no indication of consent. Blackburn is accused of allowing Senior to improperly influence or seek to influence the investigation by reason of his position of seniority within the firm. He denies the allegations.
Under cross examination, Blackburn said he acted in an administrative capacity and was not involved in disciplinary decision-making. ‘I had a conflict of interests. I reported to Mr Senior…It would have been completely inappropriate for me to have a view on what should happen to him,’ he said. He denied he was ‘second in command’ to the managing partner and said he did not consider him a friend.
Blackburn claimed he was unhappy with the sanction imposed on Senior, who was allowed to remain in post. The complainant – known in the proceedings as ‘Person A’ – left the firm. ‘At the very end of all of this I reflected back on what had happened… and Person A had gone and he was there. It didn’t feel right; it didn’t feel good,’ he said. However Andrew Tabachnik QC, for the Solicitors Regulation Authority, said Blackburn did not communicate his views to anybody before the decision was made.
The tribunal heard that Blackburn had never dealt with an allegation of sexual misconduct before. ‘I found it really tough,’ he said, adding that Person A was ‘very distressed’ in their first meeting. Meanwhile, he claimed Senior was ‘highly emotional’ and used ‘very unfortunate language’ after the alleged incident. ‘He would tell me and [former partner Thomas Cassels] "I want to tell people I’m not a rapist",’ Blackburn said.
The case was heard this morning on Zoom after proceedings were adjourned shortly before Christmas. A Baker McKenzie spokesperson said: ‘We have been co-operating fully with the Solicitors Regulation Authority since the beginning of this process in 2018. We have learned much from this episode, recognised what went wrong and have well-established and effective policies and programs in place across the firm.’