A lawyer who had client funds transferred into his own account, then misled his bosses about what he was doing, has been banned from practising in England and Wales.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard Miguel Jose Roure Lopez sent misleading emails to his client’s debtor, purporting to provide his firm’s client account details when in fact the money was transferred to his personal account.
Lopez, who had joined the London office of US firm Goldberg Segalla Global LLP in March 2015, sent the emails just nine months later to arrange the transfer of around £183,000.
The lawyer appeared to ignore repeated warnings from his firm not to proceed: in one email he was told the transactions could result in reports to the Solicitors Regulation Authority; in another a partner at the firm told Lopez: ‘You cannot do what is simply customary under Spanish law or what seems expedient. We are regulated by the SRA not Spain.’ Lopez was suspended 10 days after the first emails and resigned the same day, paying the money back soon after.
The solicitor, 45 this year, maintained to the SRA that the account provided was a ‘business account’ and not a personal one. The regulator told the tribunal Lopez ‘could not have made it any clearer’ that he was writing in his capacity as a part of Goldberg Segalla and that the ‘lawyer trust account’ to which he referred was the client account.
Having left the firm and worked through his own company Reactive Legal Services LLP, it was also alleged he permitted a number of transfers to his own account without the client’s consent.
The solicitor said he was unable to defend himself against the allegations because of a lack of disclosure from his former employers. He denied all the individual charges against him, insisting that while he may have been an ‘idiot’ he was not dishonest. He said he acted in the client’s best interest and did not retain funds intentionally.
But the tribunal found beyond reasonable doubt that Lopez had sent emails that were misleading and that he knew the account details he was providing did not relate to the firm.
Evidence from a Goldberg Segalla partner was found to be credible and reliable, and the tribunal agreed Lopez had misled the firm as to his dealings, sending replies to former colleague that were ‘rooted in an attempt to cover his tracks’.
The judgment concluded Lopez’s misconduct was ‘deliberate, calculated and repeated and had continued over a period of time’. Lopez was struck off the Register of European Lawyers and ordered to pay £57,536 costs.