A former Shakespeares partner who misused almost u350,000 of client funds has been struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.
In a case exclusively revealed by The Lawyer (1 February), John Vernon paid himself u189,000 out of clients funds during his years at the Birmingham firm, while u156,000 went to other clients.
The shortfall might be even higher, Peter Cadman for the Law Society told the tribunal. The exact amount is still unknown and is likely to remain so.
In striking Vernon off, tribunal chairman David Leverton said: “It's a serious case of a solicitor taking clients' money over a period of time – one of the more serious cases we've had before the tribunal.”
He added that striking off was the only sentence the tribunal could impose.
Vernon, 61, of Belbroughton, Stourbridge, admitted five allegations of failing to keep accounts properly written up, drawing money out of clients' accounts, using clients' funds for other clients' and his own purposes and misappropriating client funds.
According to Cadman, Vernon was a partner in Shakespeares before becoming a consultant in 1996. He retired in 1997.
In January 1998, Cadman said, the firm discovered file irregularities and called in the police. No charges have yet been brought, but civil proceedings were brought against Vernon, and in an interview he admitted using client funds for his own benefit.
Cadman said: “There were repeated acts of dishonesty over a period of years involving a considerable amount of money and there was no entitlement and no honest explanation.”
Vernon, who was ordered to pay u4,000 costs, said at the tribunal that no client had suffered any loss and it had always been his intention to make good the shortfall.
“I very much regret the problems caused to the profession and to those involved,” he added.
Commenting on Vernon's tribunal, Shakespeares' managing partner Andrew Argyle says: “I'm not surprised.”
He says the firm has tightened up its internal security since Vernon's departure.