A consultant solicitor who texted her boss asking him to remove an incriminating fee note from the file has been struck off.
Maria Williams, 60, had sent a Whatsapp message to John Poyser, of Manchester firm John Poyser & Co Solicitors, saying the fee note would ‘make thing [sic] difficult for me’ and that, in the face of allegations already made against her, the extra issue would ‘take it to another level’. Poyser passed the message to the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard that Williams was alleged to have altered a fee note from 18 St John Street Chambers to disguise the true date on which payment was made by her. She had been asked to provide Poyser with a copy of a cheque paid to the barrister, as there was no record of counsel being paid. Counsel’s receipted invoice was dated March 2018, while Williams had inserted in her firm’s records that payment was made in July 2017.
Williams admitted to altering the note and to sending the message, telling the SRA she knew she had done wrong and did not want an additional element to be brought to the regulator’s attention.
Williams also admitted accepting £4,500 in cash from a client to discharge counsel’s fee, and retaining £2,000 of that money without authority. She had initially explained that she had been chased for counsel’s fee and already paid the £2,000 out of her personal funds, so was in effect reimbursing herself. She left the firm in August 2018, apologising in writing and saying she had panicked when she should have spoken to her bosses about what had happened.
In mitigation, not endorsed by the SRA, Williams said she deeply regretted the episode and was suffering from impaired physical and mental health, although this did not excuse her conduct. She admitted to three episodes of dishonesty over 16 months, one motivated by personal gain and the others to covering up her dishonesty. The tribunal said her misconduct caused ‘irreparable harm’ to the reputation of the profession.
Williams, a solicitor since 1999, had previously been suspended for a year after appearing before the tribunal in 2006.
She agreed with the SRA to being struck off and paying £3,678 in costs.