legal

Solicitor used estate money to clear overdraft while client was in prison



A solicitor who lied to his prisoner client while failing to secure the inheritance from an estate has been struck off the roll.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal said Geoffrey Rushton had concealed matters from his vulnerable client and blamed a disgruntled former employee for money not being kept safe.

The tribunal said Rushton had improperly benefitted from monies paid into the office account that should have been in the client account. With Rushton the only signatory on the accounts, client funds were paid into an overdrawn office account and then used to discharge an overdraft fee and debt card fee.

‘[Rushton] had been motivated by personal, financial gain [and] the misconduct had been planned and had continued over a period of many months,’ the tribunal said.

‘[He] had acted in a breach of a position of trust as his client was in prison and so less able to challenge the veracity of what he was being told.’

The tribunal heard that Rushton, who did not attend his hearing and was not represented, had been a solicitor since 2006 and ran Rushton Legal Services in Staffordshire until the business was struck off at Companies House last year.

The client was serving a prison sentence when his mother, his only surviving relative, had died, and Rushton was instructed to help him move monies from his mother’s account to his own.

Rushton had provided details of the firm’s business current account, which went from £2,220 overdrawn to £35,000 in credit following receipt of the estate monies. Before any breakdown of costs were sent to the client, the cash book recorded that four-figure sums were transferred to Rushton, one labelled as ‘directors drawings’. The eventual shortage of £6,200 in the client bank account was not replaced, the tribunal heard.

Rushton was alleged to have sent letters to the client saying his office accounts had been frozen and he longer had control of his monies. This was not true, but the solicitor had told SRA investigators the letter had been forged and a former employee had made off with computers and files.

The tribunal said the letters were a ‘series of lies’ and demonstrably false. No mitigating factors were found and Rushton was struck off. He was also ordered to pay £21,827 in costs.



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