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The Solicitors Regulation Authority has suspended two lawyers and fined them £20,000 each for sending out thousands of letters accusing people of illegally sharing files.
Davenport Lyons partner David Gore and Brian Miller, a former partner at the firm, faced six allegations of breaching the Solicitors' Code of Conduct and were found guilty of all six charges.
The Solicitors' Disciplinary Tribunal heard the two sent out 6,000 letters between 2006 and 2009. The letters demanded compensation and threatened further legal action if money was not paid. The lawyers represented copyright owners.
The SRA release said: "The SDT found, in effect, that Mr Miller and Mr Gore became too concerned about making the scheme profitable for themselves and their firm. Their judgment became distorted and they pursued the scheme regardless of the impact on the people receiving the letters and even of their own clients."
Happily along with a £20,000 fine the two lawyers must pay SRA legal fees of about £150,000 – that's an interim payment while the final bill is worked out.
An SRA spokesman said: "Some of those affected were vulnerable members of the public. There was significant distress ... Solicitors have a duty to act with integrity, independence and in the best interests of their clients. Solicitors who breach those duties can expect to face action by the SRA."
A previous hearing found Gore and Miller had knowingly targeted innocent people when sending out letters based on IP addresses alone. The regulator said the two men knew there were other explanations but went ahead with sending out the letters.
The six proven allegations were that:
• the men allowed their independence to be compromised;
• they failed to act in the best interests of their clients;
• their actions were likely to diminish the trust placed in them and the legal profession by the public;
• they broke the rules on contingency fee agreements; and
• that there was a risk of conflict of interest.
• Finally, the two men were found to have used their position as solicitors to take or attempt to take unfair advantage of other persons.
Davenport Lyons passed the work onto ACS:Law and Andrew Crossley in 2009 when it got sick of the bad publicity.