A solicitor who breached practising restrictions within days of being handed them has been suspended for five years.
Freelance criminal solicitor Michael David Schwartz was given a suspended sanction on 9 September 2016 by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal and was told he needed permission to practise again.
When Schwartz attempted to have restrictions lifted at a subsequent hearing, it came out that he had been instructed by Birmingham firm Toussaints on 13 or 14 September. In breach of his restrictions, Schwartz had appeared in court on 14 September and acted for a client on instruction from a firm.
There was no question of misconduct on the part of the firm.
The SDT opted to activate his five-year suspension after noting that Schwartz had a ‘cavalier disregard’ for the restrictions order. It is believed to be the first time the tribunal has activated a suspended penalty.
The judgment added: ‘The tribunal had made the order in the hope and expectation that it would be complied with, not deliberately disregarded. The tribunal noted and took into account [Schwarz’s] submission with regard to his commitment to the profession. Sadly, that commitment had not extended to complying with a reasonable and proper order made by the tribunal on behalf of the profession and the public.’
Schwartz, a solicitor since 1979, had originally been sanctioned after it was found he had failed to pay cash given to him by clients into a firm’s client account until prompted by the client themselves.
The tribunal said it had taken into account that this was Schwarz’s third appearance before a disciplinary body. The September hearing had considered the seriousness of Schwartz's conduct and imposed restrictions as an effective future deterrent.
Schwartz said in his witness statement he had incorrectly thought he could work until the Solicitors Regulation Authority had given reasons for his suspended sanction.
But during cross-examination, he admitted he had known at the conclusion of the hearing the restrictions came into immediate effect.
Schwartz submitted that the original sanction had been ‘somewhat harsh’ and he stressed that the SDT did not have to automatically activate the suspension. He had been a solicitor for almost 40 years, helped thousands of people and had not placed the client at the court appearance in September in any risk.
But the SDT said it could not consider anything other than activating the suspension, noting Schwartz had ‘consciously flouted’ the tribunal’s order. He was also ordered to pay £2,250 costs, in addition to the £17,331 costs ordered at the September hearing.