In June 2017, the Law Society Gazette reported that Patrick Adrien Fitzgerald, a ‘leading lawyer’ at the time, had been promoted to lead two industrial disease fee earning divisions at Roberts Jackson.
Despite stating his intentions to ‘hit the ground running’, the claimant firm entered into administration the following year [as we reported in edition 249 of BC Disease News (here)], leaving behind £40 million in unpaid debts owed to creditors.
Now, it emerges that Mr. Fitzgerald has been struck off the roll for historic misconduct, dating back to 2016.
A fortnight ago, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) heard that, in June of 2016, the 37-year-old took over conduct in a work-related back injury claim.
Prior to assuming responsibility for the file, the matter had not progressed for 24 months and there had been a break in correspondence between the delegated handler and the claimant for over 18 months.
Resuming advancement of the claim, one of Mr. Fitzgerald’s first actions was to submit a request for the release of personnel, training and occupational health records from the defendant employer, by manner of signed formal authority.
Such authority had already been obtained on 16 March 2014.
However, Mr. Fitzgerald sought to amend the date of the signature so that it would seem to have been drafted more recently. He forged the original document by covering the old date with a ‘Post-it Note’ and making a photocopy with a new date (14 July 2016?) written over it. Reprocessing the Form of Authority in this way, it eliminated any need for the claimant to produce another signature.
Ordinarily, such fraudulent conduct might go unnoticed, or at least be difficult to prove.
In this instance, though, it appeared obvious that the backdated document was counterfeit in nature. Not long after the defendant received the request for records, Mr. Fitzgerald was informed that the claimant had in fact died before the amended Form had been purportedly signed.
Short of producing a signature from the grave, therefore, it was impossible for the signed Form of Authority to be anything other than falsified.
Nonetheless, Mr. Fitzgerald was questioned by the police about this incident without charge.
An investigation was subsequently instigated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and, in an outcome statement, arrived at on 16 September 2019, the decision to prosecute was referred to the SDT, given that the allegations remained ‘as yet unproven’.
These allegations were namely that (1) on or around 14 July 2016, Mr. Fitzgerald ‘inappropriately amended the date on the Form of Authority’ and (2) that he ‘inappropriately sent the amended Form of Authority to Client A’s former employer (Employer A), the content of which was untrue’.
At a 2-hour remote hearing, which Mr. Fitzgerald did not attend, the SRA submitted that he had known he did not have the client’s updated consent and that whist he had claimed to be acting in the interests of his client and was worried about the limitation date, this could not be done at the expense of honest practice.
As such, the case was answered, in respect of all allegations put forward. Mr. Fitzgerald was disqualified from the profession and was ordered to pay the SRA’s costs, totalling £3,729.
 ‘Promotions: Roberts Jackson Solicitors’ (15 June 2017 Law Gazette) <https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/movers/promotions-roberts-jackson-solicitors/5061527.article> accessed 27 May 2020.
 Neil Rose, ‘Ex-PI firm set to leave nearly £40m of debts unpaid’ (15 May 2020 Legal Futures) <https://www.legalfutures.co.uk/latest-news/ex-pi-firm-set-to-leave-nearly-40m-of-debts-unpaid> accessed 28 May 2020.
 John Hyde, ‘Solicitor backdated signed document not knowing injury claim client had died’ (27 May 2020 Law Gazette) <https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/news/solicitor-backdated-signed-document-not-knowing-injury-claim-client-had-died/5104407.article> accessed 27 May 2020.
 ‘Patrick Adrien Fitzgerald’ (23 April 2020 SRA) <https://www.sra.org.uk/consumers/solicitor-check/605103/> accessed 28 May 2020.