An international law firm partner who exchanged a series of sexist and offensive emails with his client for more than a year was today fined £15,000 by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.
DLA Piper partner Nicholas William West replied to a string of correspondence from a friend working for football governing body the Premier League.
The organisation had been a client of his for 15 years.
The tribunal heard that West engaged in nine cited emails which referred repeatedly to the word ‘klunt’ - accepted to be a play on words - and referred to his own ‘graphite shaft’.
Regarding a potential recruitment of a female employee, the tribunal was told: ‘Mr West responds to a sexually suggestive email from his email correspondent, he says how kluntilicious to hear you in such astonishingly kluntilicious form, if she is interested in your dangle on your dongle [sic]… .’
Another email referred to the term ‘foetus shopping’.
A further email said: ‘Save your cash in case you find some gash. It’s a good job there’s no ladies present.’
Adam Solomon, prosecuting for the SRA, added: ‘This email was indeed copied to a female colleague.’
The emails came to light following a leak from a former Premier League employee, and attracted a wave of criticism about the sexist nature of the content from senior figures in football.
Today’s sanctions hearing, which was ordered by the tribunal after it rejected an agreed outcome between the Solicitors Regulation Authority and West, heard West had apologised for the emails when they came to the public attention, but then denied allegations of wrongdoing following advice from his former legal team.
In a letter to the SRA sent towards the end of 2014, West said the ‘klunt’ nickname was a reference to the Ricky Gervais book Flanimals. It was intended to be ‘light-hearted and a play on words’.
At today’s hearing, West’s representative Peter Cadman, from national firm Russell-Cooke, said the distinction between the relationship with a friend and a client had ‘become blurred’. West admitted all allegations against him of breaches of SRA principles, including to act with integrity, run your business or carry out your role in the business in a way that encourages equality of opportunity and respect for diversity, and to behave in a way that maintains the trust the public places in you and in the provision of legal services.
‘Generally [West] is not the instigator but is the replier,’ Cadman added. ‘That is a fact, not an excuse. It is a painful lesson learnt for him and publicity arising may educate others in the profession about the care people have to take about the content of emails.
‘He never expected to be here in his professional career. He has lost his good name.’
Cadman said West had already suffered financially by having to pay out legal fees for both parties and missing out on a bonus from his firm estimated at between £20,000 and £25,000.
Tribunal chair Andrew Spooner said there was no doubt the email exchanges, which featured 14 separate chains, had lasted a ‘significant’ length of time, from February 2012 to October 2013.
‘We take note of the fact that although this exchange was said to have been between friends, [West] was a solicitor and the Premier League was his client.
‘An experienced solicitor should have been circumspect and could and should have urged caution.
‘Some of the emails were despicable in content, particularly so where the client was striving to promote equality and diversity. It was a sad and salutary lesson for [West] given his previous exemplary career.’
West was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay £12,000 in costs.