A solicitor has been struck off after misleading clients into thinking their case at the employment tribunal was progressing despite it being struck out due to inactivity.
Jean Attala, a solicitor who worked at Thompsons Solicitors and also a member of the bar, lied to the trade union GMB and its members about a case he was instructed in following the closure of a work site in Sunderland which resulted in 734 job losses.
The case went to the employment tribunal to recover unpaid redundancy pay and notice pay, but was struck out in December 2011 after the tribunal found that the proceedings were not being actively reviewed.
Despite being aware that the proceedings had been struck out and sending a cheque for £4,000 to settle costs to respondents, Attala continued to inform his clients and the union that the case was progressing through court.
Between June 2012 and July 2013 he sent a number of emails and letters about the case to his clients, falsely stating that he was awaiting a hearing date from the tribunal and later setting out dates that he said a pre-hearing trial review was scheduled for.
His actions were discovered after Attala’s team manager reviewed the case file following an enquiry from the union. Attala initially resisted disclosing the file, but then confessed that he had misled and lied to the firm, the union and its members about the progress of both claims.
In a meeting with his team manager said that he was ‘thoroughly ashamed of his actions and how he had dealt with the file’.
Attala was not present at the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal hearing, but by way of mitigation he said he suffered from depression at the time, which affected his decision making and ability to think clearly. But he did not contend there were exceptional circumstances that would mitigate a strike off.
The tribunal said: ‘His misconduct had extended over a 13-month period. He had not directly benefitted save that he put off the evil day of having to account for his inactivity in respect to his clients’ claims.
‘There had been an adverse impact on everyone else involved; the clients were disadvantaged and suffered the stress of finding out that their solicitors had lied to them and of having to try and retrieve the situation, the court was put to unnecessary work and the firm was laid open to claims.’
As well as being struck off Attala was also ordered to pay costs fixed at £2,162.