Solicitor fined for calling a potential client a ‘nutter’
A solicitor of nearly 40 years PQE has been fined £5,000 by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) for sending a string of emails calling a potential client a ‘nutter’, ‘crazy man with a death wish’ and an ‘asshole’.
Tim Bennett’s conduct was referred to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) by The Society of Trusts and Estate Practitioners (STEP) following a complaint from a potential client. STEP is a professional organisation which supports members in their careers by providing professional development and technical information. Members of STEP are subject to a code of conduct. Mr Bennett was a founder and former deputy chairman of STEP.
The complainant paid funds to Mr Bennett or an entity under his control, but the terms of the retainer could not be agreed and funds were returned and/or sent to beneficiaries. The initial complaint was that Mr Bennett had not provided the potential client with a statement of account which lead him to believe that further funds were outstanding.
Following the complaint Mr Bennett sent various emails to the professional standards manager at STEP, the potential client and a third party using derogatory terms about his mental health and capacity.
One email to all parties in the email chain was sent at 0253 on 31 January 2016 stating ‘YOU ARE THE ASSHOLE THAT TRIGGERS ALL OF THE COMPLAINTS…YOU ARE SICK. YOU NEED PROFESSIONAL HELP. BUT UNFORTUNATELY FOR ALL WHO COME INTO YOUR ORBIT YOU ARE ALSO A DISHONEST AND DISGUSTING PIECE OF SHIT…BUT OOPS I FORGOT – YOU ARE A MANIC DEPRESSIVE WITH MOOD SWINGS AND NO REAL GRASP OF REALITY …SO ENJOY THE WORLD OF YOUR INSANITY’
Mr Bennett also told a STEP employee dealing with the complaint that “I don’t need to be patronised, especially as you have no idea what you are saying! You are not a professional person and you have no idea what it means to have your integrity called into question. As I have said [he] lacks mental capacity as he is on the extreme end of bipolar…’ adding ‘England is full of witch hunts, so don’t add STEP to the sad list of witch hunters…’. In a further email sent to both STEP and the complainant he called him ‘squalid’ and ‘[lacking] hygiene and cleanliness’
In an email to the Hong Kong Monetary Authority and the complainant in February 2016 he stated that “[the complainant is] a certifiable nutcase on strong medication for bipolar mood disorder. Most of what he says is made up of garbled rubbish, emanating from the sewer that resides in his brain”.
In a letter to the SRA of May 2017 Mr Bennett acknowledged ‘with embarrassment the abruptness and rude nature of several of my communications at that time’. He referred to being under ‘extreme stress’ at the time due to medical issues regarding himself and his partner. He denied that there was any substance to the initial complaint, which STEP had ultimately not pursued.
The Tribunal noted that Mr Bennett had ‘reacted to a complaint which he considered to be vexatious. Whilst his conduct initially may have been spontaneous, it subsequently went beyond this as it continued over a period of two months and involved various people, including a third party in Hong Kong. They were particularly unimpressed by the seeming lack of insight that Mr Bennett had shown to the STEP employee who had provided a statement explaining how his behaviour made her feel harassed, intimidated and bullied.
The SDT ordered him to pay a fine of £5,000 and costs of £8,000.
Brett Wilson LLP’s solicitors specialise in regulatory proceedings before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, click here to see how they can assist you.
Articles are intended as an introduction to the topic and do not constitute legal advice.