Messages exchanged by former London managing partner Gary Senior and the colleague investigating his alleged misconduct were defended at the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal today, with the regulator accused of deploying emails out of context in its case against international firm Baker McKenzie and three former bosses.
For former partner Thomas Cassels, Richard Coleman QC said Senior had been at ‘immediate risk of self-harm or worse’ after an incident of alleged sexual harassment and that Cassels sought to ‘alleviate his anxiety and help him cope with the situation’. In one email, Cassels told Senior he was ‘increasingly confident we can land this in an OK place’.
Senior is accused of trying to embrace and kiss a junior associate in a hotel room in 2012, despite receiving no indication of consent. Cassels is accused of allowing Senior to improperly influence or seek to influence the investigation by reason of his position of seniority within the firm. Both deny misconduct.
Coleman said ‘there had to be some communication as part of this process between Mr Cassels and Mr Senior’ and that emails had ‘been deployed out of context and sometimes in the wrong order’ during the proceedings. He said some incomplete emails had also been produced.
While Cassels accepted that some of the emails were ‘inappropriate’ he denied professional misconduct. ‘It is not improper to write an internal email to another solicitor which, if taken out of context, may appear improper or may appear to detract from his independence,’ Coleman said, stressing the difference between an inappropriate message and a professionally improper one.
Coleman added that it was ‘unfair’ to single Cassels out for prosecution while excluding other senior figures involved in the disciplinary process. ‘In so far as there were errors of process, then there is absolutely no reason why Mr Cassels should bear the brunt of that as opposed to the firm itself. There is something unfair about singling out Mr Cassels... to the exclusion of everyone else,’ he said.
The hearing, which is being conducted remotely, is expected to conclude tomorrow.