A criminal lawyer who texted her client in prison more than 100 times has been told she can work again in the solicitors’ profession despite a conviction for the offence.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal imposed an 18-month suspension on Angela Caroline Hudson after deciding the public interest was best served by allowing her to return to practise in due course.
Hudson, 35 this year, had been a solicitor for almost six years when she opened her own practice in Kettering, Northamptonshire. Within five months, she was arrested by Nottinghamshire police for communicating via electronic means with a prison inmate, who was her client.
The tribunal judgment recorded that Hudson, while never actually speaking with her client on his illicit phone, sent 102 text messages over a period of two-and-a-half months. She pleaded guilty at Cambridge Magistrates’ Court in March last year and was given a suspended four-month prison sentence.
Appearing before the tribunal last month, her lawyer explained Hudson had not appreciated the stresses and strains of running a legal practice alone and she now realised she did not have the experience required.
Hudson had described an ‘air of hostility’ directed at her from established local practices who did not want to lose clients, and with the pressure of work building she did not realise she was vulnerable from being ‘too available’ and found herself ‘living her life through the eyes of her clients’.
Despite public warnings from the Law Society about solicitors not contacting inmates directly, she had found sending text messages was an effective way of reminding them of court hearing dates, meetings and other appointments.
She accepted that her unnamed client was using a mobile phone he should not have had in custody, but she said it was easy simply to reply to his daily texts and then continue with her other work. There was no suggestion the content of the messages itself was inappropriate.
The tribunal said Hudson’s case fell ‘very much at the boundary’ between a strike off and suspension, but that a temporary ban was a proportionate and sufficient sanction.
‘She had acted naively at a time when she had been under intense pressure to acquire and retain clients, having set up a new practice, in a challenging area of work,’ said the judgment. ‘[Hudson] made a grave error of judgement at a vulnerable time in her life and this had been followed by a dawning realisation of the seriousness of what she was doing.’
As well as the suspension, Hudson must pay £3,230 costs and will be prevented from running a firm for 18 months after the ban has ended.
The Law Society has published a practice note on communication with prisoners by mobile phone.