A solicitor has been fined £5,000 for sending flirtatious texts and WhatsApp messages to a vulnerable client he was representing in a domestic violence matter.
Andrew Mark Lee, formerly an associate at Liverpool-based firm Gregory Abrams Davidson, was found to have acted inappropriately after he sent messages referring to his client as ‘lovely’, ‘gorgeous’ and a ‘right glamour puss’.
He also sent texts and WhatsApp messages referring to her former boyfriend as a ‘cheeky tw*t’, saying that she deserved ‘special treatment’, and inviting her out for lunch, which she interpreted as being the equivalent of a date.
The client, identified as ‘Ms SS’, was referred to Lee by the Independent Domestic Violence Advisory service (IDVA) in relation to domestic violence issues and contact with her young child and ex-partner.
Midway through her case the operational manager at IDVA made a complaint about Lee after she spotted a message from him telling Ms SS that she ‘always look[s] lovely’ in her WhatsApp photos.
Gregory Abrams Davidson dismissed Lee for gross misconduct after the complaint was made.
Ms SS told the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal that the messages had made her ‘physically sick’ and that she had replied to them only because she did not want to upset the man who was fighting for her child.
But the tribunal found that Ms SS had not indicated any objection to the nature or frequency of the messages and noted that she appeared to join in with the exchanges.
However it said that even if the messages were welcomed at the time, ‘that did not mean they were appropriate, taking into account [Ms SS’s] vulnerability in 2013’.
It added that the text exchanges made for ‘uncomfortable reading’, and said the tribunal was ‘troubled’ by a text which made it clear that Lee had been looking at his client’s Facebook account outside of office hours.
The tribunal also found that Lee’s comment about representing his client as something he was ‘doing for pleasure’, was ‘flirtatious if not actively predatory’. It noted that the frequency of the messages was also inappropriate and ‘amounted to an intrusion’ into his client’s life.
It said: ‘Ms SS was a vulnerable client at the time, whose case involved delicate and upsetting material. The respondent was an experienced solicitor, to whom Ms SS looked for legal advice and representation. Instead of containing information and advice about the case, the messages read as flirtatious.’
But the tribunal did not hold up three further allegations against Lee. It also substantially reduced the costs claimed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, as it claimed the time spent working on the documents was ‘excessive’ and said the quality of the witness statements was ‘very poor’.
The SRA had claimed costs of £47,072.71, but the tribunal reduced this to £3,500. Noting that the conduct in question arose in a period of about a week in an otherwise unblemished 21-year career, it ordered Lee to pay a fine of £5,000.