Scots lawyer jailed for embezzling £400,000 from deceased client’s estate struck off solicitors’ roll

A disgraced Scots lawyer who was jailed after embezzling more than £400,000 from a deceased person’s estate has been struck off the solicitors’ roll.

Michael Karus, who was sentenced to three-and-a-half years’ imprisonment after pleading guilty to misappropriating £413,052 while acting as the executor of the late Edith Hampton, later paid the money back.

However, the Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal considered that the offence committed by the respondent showed that he was “not a fit person to be a solicitor” and had “no hesitation” in striking his name from the roll of solicitors.

The tribunal heard that Mr Karus, 54, had been enrolled as a solicitor in 1987 and from about April 1987 was a partner of and traded as the firm of Karus & Company in Edinburgh.

In December 2001 he appeared before the SSDT and was found guilty of professional misconduct, as a result of which his practising certificate was restricted for a period of five years and thereafter until such time as the tribunal agreed he could hold a full unqualified practising certificate.

But he was automatically suspended in May 2003 when a judicial factor was appointed to his practice.

In June 2005 he appeared again before the tribunal and was suspended for ten years after a second finding of professional misconduct.

Then, in May 2011 the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service advised the Law Society of Scotland that Mr Karus had pled guilty to a charge on indictment of embezzling the sum of £413,052.81 from the estate of the late Ms Hampton, who died in March 2003.

Following his conviction, for which he was sentenced to a term of three-and-a-half years reduced from five years to take account of the early plea, the Council of the Law Society lodged a complaint with the SSDT in terms of section 53(1)(b) of the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980, which provides for the tribunal exercising its powers in terms of section 53(2) where solicitors have been sentenced to a period of imprisonment for a term of 12 months or more.

In a written decision, Nicholas Whyte, vice chairman of the Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal, said: “The tribunal noted that it was accepted on behalf of the respondent that the offence of embezzlement referred to in the complaint had been committed by him and that a sentence of three-and-a-half year’s imprisonment had been imposed by the court in relation to that offence. In these circumstances, the tribunal held that Section 53(1)(b) of the 1980 Act applied in this case.

“The tribunal considered that the charge of embezzlement in the indictment was a very serious offence committed whilst the respondent was in a position of trust.

“The tribunal considered that such an offence committed by a member of the profession undoubtedly had a significant negative effect on the reputation of the profession which has not been negated by the money being subsequently repaid.

“Members of the public must be able to have confidence that any solicitor whom they instruct will be a person of unquestionable integrity, propriety and trustworthiness.”

It noted that Mr Karus had “moved on with his life” in the years since the crime was committed, but considered that the offence “clearly demonstrates that he is not a fit person to be a solicitor”.

“Accordingly, the tribunal had no hesitation in concluding that the only appropriate sanction in this case was to strike the respondent’s name from the roll of solicitors,” Mr Whyte added.

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