Scots lawyer found guilty of professional misconduct for failing to conclude administration of estate

A Scots lawyer who failed to undertake any work to conclude the administration of an estate has had his practising certificate restricted for a period of four years after being found guilty of “professional misconduct”.

The Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal also awarded £500 compensation to each of the two beneficiaries who Donald Murray had “fobbed off” for over a year.

Alistair Cockburn, chairman of the tribunal (pictured), said the solicitor’s conduct “clearly did not live up to the accepted ethical standards expected” of a member of the legal profession.

The tribunal heard that the respondent, 56, was a partner in the firm of McKenzies Solicitors in Kirkcaldy between October 1989 and January 2012, but was no longer on the roll of solicitors.

He had been appointed sole executor to the estate of the late Mrs A in her will, and had been instructed to deal with the executry following her death on 30 November 2010.

He repeatedly advised the beneficiaries, Mrs A’s son Steven Anderson and her daughter Catriona Jerrett, that matters would be completed in four to six weeks.

However, in January 2012 Ms Jerrett received a telephone call from another partner of the firm indicating that the respondent was absent on sick leave and that he would be taking over the executry in the meantime.

She then received a further phone call confirming that the respondent was not going to return to work and confirming that he had done “little or nothing in connection with the executry”.

The tribunal found that between Mrs A’s death and January 2012 the only piece of work carried out by the respondent in relation to the executry was obtaining the value of the deceased’s home.

Mr Anderson then complained to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission in respect of the delay and/or failure of the respondent to conclude the administration of his late mother’s estate, and the matter was referred to the SSDT.

The respondent failed to appear before the tribunal and was not represented at the proceedings, and after hearing the evidence the tribunal had “no hesitation” in concluding that his conduct amounted to professional misconduct.

In a written decision, Mr Cockburn said: “The respondent had failed to progress the executry for a period of 14 months. In that time he had been contacted repeatedly by beneficiaries. On these occasions he had either misled or deceived the beneficiaries.

“A solicitor is expected to be honest and truthful. The respondent’s conduct in this case clearly did not live up to the accepted ethical standards expected of a member of the profession.

“The respondent had failed to engage at all with the tribunal proceedings. There was no indication that he had any insight into the consequences of his conduct. There was no indication that he had taken any rehabilitative or corrective steps.

“Whilst the tribunal had regard to the fact that the Law Society’s records did not disclose any previous involvement with the tribunal, the nature of the misconduct and his lack of engagement led the tribunal to the conclusion that should the respondent attempt to practice as a solicitor in future he should be restricted to working as an assistant for a period of time.

“Having regard to the length of time that his misconduct had lasted, and the serious nature of the conduct, the tribunal concluded that the appropriate period for supervision was four years.”

The tribunal added that the respondent’s misconduct had caused “significant inconvenience” to the beneficiaries and held that the appropriate sum in compensation to each was £500.

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