A former lawyer who was jailed for embezzling money from a dead woman’s estate could face professional action after losing an appeal.
Michael Karus was jailed for three and a half years in 2009 after admitting misappropriating £413,052 while acting as the executor of a deceased client, Edith Hampton.
Sheriff Derrick McIntyre told Karus at Edinburgh Sheriff Court that the offence had involved a grave breach of trust.
Karus has not held a practising certificate for more than a decade but his name remains on the roll of solicitors despite him seeking to have it removed on several occasions.
The Law Society of Scotland made a complaint to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission based on his conduct that was the subject of the criminal charges.
The commission decided in 2012 that although it did not meet the normal one year time limit for such complaints there were exceptional circumstances for accepting it for investigation.
It was decided it should be remitted to the Law Society for consideration. Karus appealed against the ruling to the Court of Session in Edinburgh.
But three judges today decided that he had failed to establish any “material error of law” on the part of the commission or any other ground of challenge to its decision to accept the complaint for investigation.
Lord Drummond Young, who heard the appeal with Lady Paton and Lord Wheatley, said Karus name was on the solicitors’ roll when the embezzlement occurred between March and May in 2003 and in January 2004.
The judge said: “It is obviously of importance that those on the roll of solicitors should be persons with the necessary professional, intellectual and moral qualities.”
“This is an important purpose underlying the existence of the roll. It is a purpose, however, that extends not only to those who are on the roll but those who may leave it.”
“A person who has been on the roll of solicitors may subsequently rely on the fact that he was formerly on the roll,” said Lord Drummond Young.
“As a practical example of this, a person whose name had been removed from the roll might attempt to find work in another area where legal qualifications are helpful, such as business or commerce or finance; or he might attempt to find work as an unqualified lawyer in an overseas jurisdiction.”
“A person seeking work in this way has an obvious interest in presenting himself as someone who had resigned voluntarily from the roll, rather than someone who has been removed from the roll as a result of disciplinary procedures,” said Lord Drummond Young.
“It is therefore important that the basis on which a person’s name is removed from the roll should be accurately determined, as it may be relied on in future,” he said.
“If it were possible to resign from the roll and thus avoid disciplinary procedures, this policy could readily be evaded by a solicitor who knew that he faced disciplinary proceedings,” he said.
“A former solicitor might attempt to obtain work in another area where financial probity is important, and the fact that an individual has been struck off the roll of solicitors, rather than leaving the profession voluntarily, may be significant,” said the judge
Lord Drummond Young said that none of the factors relied on by Karus in his challenge were of “such weight that it might outweigh the gravity of the offence and the need to maintain public trust in the profession”.