Solicitor fined for 'completely unacceptable' correspondence with LiP
Family lawyer had â€˜responsibility to maintain his professionalism' regardless of unrepresented litigant's conduct
A solicitor has been fined £5,000 and told to pay the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s costs totalling £2,500 for sending a litigant in person in a series of 'unacceptable' emails over a 12-months period.
Stefano Enrico Mario Lucatello was acting for the husband in matrimonial proceedings over contact with the couple’s child and the payment of maintenance. The wife was unrepresented.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal described the 56-year-old solicitor’s conduct as ‘completely unacceptable’ and ‘unprofessional’.
The tribunal said in SRA v Lucatello it was clear from the full correspondence that what the wife had said was ‘also inappropriate’. However, Lucatello ‘had been corresponding with a litigant in person and it had been his responsibility to maintain his professionalism regardless of what that person may have done’.
Cases of inappropriate correspondence are few and far between. Only three came before the SDT in recent years, according to Andrew Bullock, counsel for the SRA in the case.
Lucatello, a member of Kobalt Law LLP at the time and currently the firm’s senior partner, first threatened Mrs VG by email with an application to have her declared a vexatious litigant on 23 July 2014.
A few hours later, replying to an email VG had sent to the husband asking him to comply with a payment order, Lucatello said the LiP should ‘learn the rules on etiquette and what you do and when you say to members of the legal profession including me and judges’.
In a third email the same day, the solicitor accused VG of lying about being made redundant and of receiving benefits that she wasn’t entitled to.
That evening, he emailed again in response to VG’s complaint that the husband was using litigation as a form of oppression, mocking her ‘distasteful outbursts’ with the district judge and saying she had argued in court ‘like a fisherwoman’.
‘You should stop playing at being a lawyer and take a correctly qualified legal representative into court,’ he said, before adding: ‘I do not need to show you in a bad light as you do this admirably without any assistance from me.’
The couple’s daughter was living with the husband in the UK at the time and discussions over contact with VG, who lives in Italy, led to further similar correspondence in October that year. The husband, VG claimed, was deliberately not agreeing on a flight for the girl to fly out to Italy, in breach of the contact order.
‘All you try to do is create problems for your ex-husband and so indirectly your daughter,’ Lucatello said. ‘Do not think that I will not have you arrested,’ he warned. ‘Your behaviour and conduct throughout are a disgrace.’
In the meantime, VG started proceedings in Italy and there was disagreement about when to return the daughter to the UK. This elicited the following response from Lucatello: ‘You have been served with counter proceedings. Unfortunately for you your games and lies have been discovered. Place the child on the plane on the due date and do not waste my time.’
Further email exchanges took place until September 2015, when an SRA supervisor started investigating Lucatello’s conduct.
The solicitor insisted he had ‘at all times throughout this matter, maintained a professional attitude’ and that he had wanted to ‘not being taken advantage of by my opponent’.
He defended his comments saying they were ‘the result of substantial action being required to be taken against a person, who has, taken advantage of her position, as unrepresented person, by being given advice by judges, in clear breach of judges rules, flouting the procedures and rules, standing up and shouting at me and judges in court’.
In the circumstance, his comments, he said, were ‘reasonable, fair, polite, but firm, having regard to the extensive history of this case’.
VG, he explained, had made ‘wild allegations and accusations’ against him, ‘which clearly show the lady to be unbalanced’.
Jean-Yves Gilg is editor-in-chief of Solicitors Journal