Lawyer who impersonated colleague while banned from profession has jail term quashed
A lawyer who breached an order banning him from practising as a solicitor by pretending to be a colleague has had his jail term quashed by judges in the Court of Session.
The appeal regarding the breach itself was not overturned.
John O’Donnell, 64, was banned from practising for five years after he was found guilty of professional misconduct and was jailed for three months in February after he failed to obey a 2009 interdict.
However, appeal judges have admonished Mr O’Donnell as a result of his mental health problems and an absence of criminal motive.
Following a ruling of the Scottish Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal in 2009, the Court of Session granted an interdict against him, finding him guilty of professional misconduct for the third time in his career.
But after the ruling he began working for a firm on the south side of Glasgow which was run by solicitor Colin Davidson.
Mr O’Donnell pretended to be Mr Davidson by forging his signature on legal documents and actually passing himself off as Mr Davidson with clients.
Lord Stewart sentenced Mr O’Donnell to prison in February but Lady Dorrian, sitting with Lord Drummond Young and Lady Clark said Lord Stewart had erred.
She added: “We are satisfied that the Lord Ordinary erred in his approach to sentencing. We think a period of imprisonment is excessive.
“We propose recalling the sentence imposed and impose an admonition.”
Lorna Jack, chief executive of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “By holding himself out as a solicitor permitted to practice, John O’Donnell engaged in a course of conduct that breached a court order and flouted the Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal and provisions of the statute that regulate the legal profession’
“The Law Society did all it could and should have done in relation to protecting the public and reputation of the profession by taking breach of interdict action against John O’Donnell.
“Mr O’Donnell had breached an order of the court and it is therefore for the court to determine what sanction is appropriate.
“People often turn to a solicitor at critical times in their lives so to deceive people who need legal advice is a serious abuse of the trust that clients place in their solicitor and goes against every solicitor’s core principles of honesty and integrity.
“It is essential to protect members of the public seeking legal advice and ensure they can continue to put their trust in solicitors. We will always take action against individuals if we have good reason to believe they are misleading people by holding themselves out as a solicitor when they are not entitled to do so.”
Mr O’Donnell has not held a Law Society of Scotland practising certificate since 2009.
All solicitors require to hold an up to date practising certificate to describe themselves as a solicitor entitled to practice.