A law firm partner who instructed a secretary to backdate a letter and send out the fabricated document has been struck off the roll.
Levent Chetinkaya, a member of London firm Bishop & Sewell Solicitors, failed to inform his conveyancing client that her documents had been lost and instead tried to conceal the mistake. He was struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal following a four-day hearing, while legal secretary Tracey Curaba was banned from working in the profession for her part in the misconduct.
The tribunal heard that Chetinkaya and Curaba had tried in vain to find property forms following an inquiry from the purchaser’s solicitor. Searches continued for weeks until the end of May 2017, when two letters dated 6 April 2017 were created, signifying the date on which Chetinkaya told the client that documents had been sent out.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority submitted that the solicitor instructed Curaba to backdate the documents and she did as she was told. The tribunal heard that Chetinkaya knew and accepted he had given these instructions during an internal investigation because he knew it would create a false impression.
He denied to the tribunal that he acted dishonestly, submitting there was a lack of evidence and it was ‘inherently improbable’ that he acted as alleged. He pointed to testimonials which showed ‘no propensity’ to be dishonest in his character.
It was submitted for Chetinkaya that Curaba, a legal secretary for 30 years, was a ‘robust person’ who sometimes ‘acted beyond the limit of her authority and would not have been cowed into acting wrongly by a superior’.
But the tribunal found he had instructed her to compose and backdate a letter to create a backdated version of events on the conveyancing file. Two allegations were proved against him, in both cases with dishonesty.
The tribunal concluded that Chetinkaya did not want the client to discover papers had been misplaced in the office and his motives were ‘entirely self-serving’, with concealment ‘the whole intention of what [he] did’.
As to Curaba, one finding of dishonesty was found proved. She acknowledged what she had done was wrong and had emphasised she acted ‘under orders’ from someone she regarded as her boss.
The tribunal noted she used the words ‘extreme duress’ in her written responses, but there was no evidence to support this.
Chetinkaya was ordered to pay £9,000 costs, with Curaba paying £1,000.