An experienced solicitor who sent a string of angry emails to a professional body in response to a complaint has been fined £5,000.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard that Tim Bennett, 68 this year, responded to the Society of Trusts and Estate Practitioners by describing the complainant as an ‘unstable bipolar nutter’ and said the organisation was in danger of staging a witch hunt against him.
The emails followed STEP’s decision to act on a complaint in 2015 about the use of funds. The organisation subsequently received several communications from the solicitor, prompting a report to the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
Bennett told STEP he would not ‘stand trial at the behest of a crazy man’ and said the complainant lacked mental capacity. In another email sent to STEP, the complainant and a third party, Bennett wrote in capital letters: ‘YOU ARE THE ASSHOLE THAT TRIGGERS ALL OF THE COMPLAINTS… YOU ARE A MANIC DEPRESSIVE WITH MOOD SWINGS AND NO REAL GRASP OF REALITY… ENJOY THE WORLD OF YOUR INSANITY.’
STEP's professional standards manager told SRA investigators that Bennett’s emails were ‘rude, derogatory and aggressive’. Comment relating to the complainant’s mental health issues was particularly offensive, and she believed his communications were ‘designed to deliberately intimidate, harass and bully me into closing the complaint’.
Bennett, who was a founding member of STEP and is a former committee chairman, formally apologised to all concerned and stated he was ‘deeply embarrassed’ by the episode. He referred to being under ‘extreme stress’ during the period in question and pointed out there was ultimately no substance to the initial complaint.
Bennett, admitted in 1980 and currently not practising, said in mitigation that he was dealing with a vexatious litigant who had made an unfounded complaint, and his comments were not posted publicly or in any professional capacity as a solicitor.
He stated that the case worker’s inexperience ‘compounded and caused the escalation of a situation that should have been dealt with in a simpler and more efficient way’.
Bennett, currently based in Switzerland, cited a career of almost 40 years with no complaints about his use of language.
The tribunal said STEP had been caught up in Bennett’s ‘toxic’ relationship with the complainant, and he had taken out his frustrations on a staff member. His conduct towards the case worker was ‘completely unacceptable and was clearly aimed at undermining her role’.
The tribunal imposed the £5,000 fine and ordered costs of £8,000.