A solicitor who blamed the ‘perfect storm’ of health problems and financial struggles for his misconduct has been struck off the roll.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard that Nicholas Charles Stansfield Goddard admitted improperly transferring a minimum of £77,387 from the client account to the office account of Manchester firm Total Law.
He also failed to pay the sum of £88,500 in personal injury damages due to a client, despite numerous requests from her. In a letter to the tribunal, the client said Goddard’s actions had prevented her from moving forward with her life, and accused him of ‘abusing the trust of a sick individual, [causing] considerable upset and emotional distress’.
The tribunal heard the money was received into the firm’s account in December 2015, but she was not made aware for two months and the client said Goddard then ‘avoided me, lied to me and manipulated me in order to not discuss this issue’.
Goddard, who qualified in 1991, admitted failing to notify the Solicitors Regulation Authority that he was made bankrupt in May 2016, and failed to keep accounting records properly written up for around nine months.
Goddard said the firm had been in financial difficulty and he had used client monies to ‘prop up’ the business. Round four-figure sums were transferred to the office bank account to enable him to pay staff salaries until there was no money left in the client account.
The solicitor admitted dishonesty and the tribunal said it was ‘inconceivable’ that he would not have understood his obligations under the accounts rules. The judgment inferred monies were taken ‘deliberately and intentionally to enable the firm’s liabilities to be met’.
In mitigation, Goddard said the firm had suffered a ‘catastrophic series of events’, including losing a client providing 70% of its income. He had been diagnosed with chronic adjustment disorder with both anxiety and depression.
His lawyers argued Goddard's behaviour was out of character and he was held in extremely high regard by his peers and members of the judiciary, with personal and financial problems combining to create the ‘perfect storm’ which resulted in misconduct.
But the tribunal said the extent of Goddard’s dishonesty, lasting eight months and involving 35 separate transactions, showed a ‘sustained and continuing course of conduct’.
The judgment added: ‘Whilst the regard in which [Goddard] was held was clear, that did not outweigh the seriousness of his proven and admitted misconduct.’
He was struck off the roll and ordered to pay £5,000 in prosecution costs.