A solicitor who challenged her £2,000 Solicitors Regulation Authority fine has lost her appeal - and been ordered to pay more than 20 times the penalty in costs.
Donna Eloise Cannon made oral submissions to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal for four hours in a bid to clear her name after an SRA adjudicator had found five misconduct allegations proved against her.
In her appeal hearing before the tribunal, the family law solicitor accused the SRA of bias and procedural unfairness and said action taken against her was disproportionate. She suggested that the whole investigation was ‘tainted’ from the start and that certain evidence which might have supported her case was ignored. The SRA’s pursuit of her, said Cannon, had been ‘relentlessly aggressive’.
The SRA insisted its adjudicator’s decision was not wrong and the sanction was appropriate, particularly as it did not interfere with Cannon’s ability to practise.
The tribunal dismissed her appeal after finding no evidence to back her claims, and further ordered her to pay the SRA’s £54,000 costs.
Cannon had been a member of Hampshire firm Principal Law from its inception in August 2010 until early 2015, at which point she left in ‘acrimonious’ circumstances.
She admitted one misconduct allegation, namely that she acted inappropriately by emailing her bank relationship manager calling him ‘you dishonest, incompetent idiot’. But she denied misconduct related to emails and Facebook posts concerning former colleagues and opposing parties. Cannon also denied wrongdoing after sending correspondence with a letter purportedly holding herself out as a principal of another firm.
The tribunal said the SRA had given Cannon the chance to respond to its allegations and allowed an extension of time for her to reply. The SRA’s selection of evidence to place before the adjudicator, noted the tribunal, was ‘neither unfair nor partial’, and there was no evidence to support the solicitor’s accusation of bias.
‘The fact that the decision-maker made a decision that a party was unhappy with did not itself suggest that a decision was founded on irregularity, unfairness or bias,’ added the tribunal, which dismissed Cannon’s appeal, save for an allegation of lack of integrity which had not been proved against her.
Following three case management hearings and a three-day hearing, the SRA submitted a costs bill of more than £54,000. Cannon herself submitted a statement of costs coming to more than £20,000. The tribunal, which heard that Cannon was in ‘dire’ financial need, said the usual rule should apply that the unsuccessful party should pay the other’s side’s reasonable costs.
It is understood that Cannon plans to further appeal the tribunal’s decision.