A solicitor and pillar of his local community has been struck off after misleading a client for months about an impending payment.
Gregory Stuart Saunders, formerly a partner with national firm Clarke Willmott, misled the client through emails saying that £38,000 settlement monies from a litigation would be paid imminently. In fact, Saunders had sent the client a draft settlement agreement but had not made initial contact with the other party and had not progressed the matter.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard that, in December 2018, Saunders promised the client the money would be ‘like a Christmas present’, but the issue dragged on through to February 2019, when the client complained that nothing had been received.
Saunders continued to suggest a payment was forthcoming, even suggesting the money would come from the office account, before the client complained to the firm. Both Saunders and the firm reported the matter to the Solicitors Regulation Authority in March 2019, and he resigned two days later.
The tribunal heard that Saunders also admitted to making a statement to another client the previous year about a £20,681 payment which he knew was untrue and misleading. The client had been chased for a payment he believed was for fees, but it was actually for an unrelated matter and did not need to be paid.
Saunders, admitted in 2000, described himself as an ‘active member’ of the legal profession until these matters. He also served as chairman of Somerset Chamber of Commerce and of the Taunton Strategic Advisory Board, and was trustee and director of Arts Taunton.
In mitigation, not agreed with the SRA, he reported feeling under ‘extreme pressure’ at work and as a senior individual in his team felt unable to share his problems with colleagues. He deeply regretted his conduct but drew the tribunal’s attention to personal and medical difficulties. He had lost everything as a result of the way he behaved and said his distress when reflecting on his conduct ‘cannot be overestimated’.
He agreed with the SRA to be struck off and to pay £4,600 costs.
Following the ruling, Clarke Willmott said the matters were reported to the SRA and any clients affected have been compensated.