Solicitor John O’Donnell named in yet another crooked lawyer scandal as Law Society’s self regulation of lawyers fails to protect consumers. AN INVESTIGATION by the Sunday Mail newspaper has revealed twice suspended but still working as a solicitor John G O'Donnell has been impersonating a DECEASED LAWYER colleague as part of an elaborate fraud, while staff at Davidson Fraser, the law firm he was working at in 2009, said nothing to clients. The Law Society of Scotland did nothing to prevent the rogue solicitor continuing his reign of scams against clients even after being twice suspended & made bankrupt, and O’Donnell was only found out after one of his clients, widow Elizabeth Campbell, 69, saw his photograph in an earlier article in the Sunday Mail newspaper featuring the solicitor who was pretending to be the now deceased solicitor Colin Davidson while ‘representing’ Mrs Campbell in legal cases & a land deal he then went on to ruin.
Taxpayer funded lawyer working at Citizens Advice referred clients to fraudster law firm & lawyer. The paper’s investigation of O’Donnell has also revealed how a taxpayer funded lawyer, Gilbert A Anderson who works for Citizens Advice Scotland as an in-court legal adviser at Hamilton Sheriff Court in a taxpayer funded position paid for by the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB), passed on clients to O’Donnell at law firm Davidson Fraser without alerting anyone to the notorious solicitor’s past treatment of clients and his disgraceful record as a solicitor which includes two suspensions of his practising certificate and over TWENTY ONE negligence claims made by O’Donnell’s former clients to the Law Society of Scotland’s Master Insurance Policy. The investigation also reveals Mr Anderson’s name appeared on the Davidson Fraser law firm’s letterhead.
Tribunal ineffective at protecting consumers from rogue solicitors. Additionally, in an interesting twist to one of the hearings at the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal, where proceedings more often than not play into the hands of double dealers and those regulators such as the Law Society of Scotland who fail to protect the public from crooked lawyers, it was also revealed that Elaine Motion of Balfour & Manson, acting as the Law Society’s Fiscal who ‘prosecuted’ John O’Donnell at the SSDT, was approached by solicitor Steven Gold, (O’Donnell’s own solicitor) at a Law Society Christmas Party in 2009, where a shady deal was proposed. While the Tribunal report was at pains to say no deal had been done to save O’Donnell, the fact remains he went on to work at other law firms while the Law Society sat back and did nothing to protect unsuspecting clients.
A ‘stripped down’ ‘account’ of the meeting between Elaine Motion & Steven Gold, is reported in the Tribunal's hearing into one of the complaints against O’Donnell, which is published online here Council of the Law Society of Scotland v John G O'Donnell and reprinted below to give a flavour of the double dealing behind the closed doors world of self regulation of Scottish solicitors :
Law Society’s 2009 Christmas party was scene of deal to save O’Donnell from disciplinary moves. Page three of the Council of the Law Society of Scotland v John G O'Donnell states : “In December 2009, Elaine Motion and Steven Gold, Solicitor were both at a Law Society’s Christmas Drinks Party. They were involved in a conversation with regard to the health and welfare of the Respondent. Mr Gold made representations on behalf of the Respondent to Elaine Motion to the effect that it would be humane and advantageous to everyone involved if a way could be found to allow the Respondent to hand in his practising certificate without having to undergo the ordeal and expense of an appearance before the Tribunal. Elaine Motion was sympathetic to the representations but indicated that she would require to discuss matters with the Law Society of Scotland who would make the decision. There was no undertaking given at this meeting to Steven Gold that if the Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal struck the Respondent’s name from the Roll of Solicitors in Scotland no further Complaints would be brought against the Respondent and no undertaking was given that if the Respondent accepted pleas of guilty to the outstanding Complaint, no further proceedings would be brought against him.”
Those who follow the murky word of self regulation of Scotland’s legal profession will have trouble believing much of the SSDT’s account of matters, in the light of O’Donnell’s continued disregard of the law and the Law Society of Scotland’s failure to protect consumers from serial crooked solicitors and law firm staff who apparently stand by and watch while clients are robbed blind.
The ongoing saga of John O’Donnell and his trail of victims is indicative of the poor protection for consumers of legal services, let down by regulators such as the Law Society of Scotland & Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC).
The Sunday Mail’s investigation into John O’Donnell follows :
COLIN YOU A LIAR
Client's fury at identity fraud
By Russell Findlay, Sunday Mail 22 April 2012
A banned solicitor has been accused of conning a client by impersonating another lawyer in an elaborate fraud. The client also claims that John O'Donnell, 61 cost her 50,000 by botching a land deal and that he failed to turn up to defend two small claims for her.
Widow Elizabeth Campbell, 69, believed that the solicitor working for her was called Colin Davidson. But she discovered "Colin" was actually O'Donnell - who is serving two five year bans from working as a solicitor and is bankrupt - when she saw his photo in the Sunday Mail.
Elizabeth, from East Kilbride, said : "I met "Colin" in his office many times between March and September last year. I was stunned when I came across a Sunday Mail story about O'Donnell which carried his photo. I recognised him as the man I knew as Colin. I was shattered."
Elizabeth claimed that O'Donnell botched a land deal dispute by allowing it to be sold for less than its true value, costing her 50,000. And she also accused him of lying by saying that he defended two small claims cases at Hamilton & Glasgow Sheriff Courts.
Elizabeth, who suffered from depression after her husband's death four years ago, said she had trusted "Colin" when they first met.
She said : "He said that he understood as he had also suffered. I thought to myself, I've got a soul mate here" Then I discovered that he had failed to represent me at Hamilton and Glasgow Sheriff Courts for small claims and two decrees were awarded against me. Debt collectors began chasing me yet he continued to lie and say that he had been in court. I've been able to recall the Glasgow case but the Hamilton case is still against me."
O'Donnell was given a five year ban in 2009 and another five-year ban in 2010 due to his appalling track record of professional misconduct. His bankruptcy also disqualifies him from practising.
In March last year, the Sunday Mail warned the Law Society of Scotland that O'Donnell was allegedly working for the real Colin Davidson’s firm Davidson Fraser. Former Bankrupt Davidson - who has since died - told us then : "He's not employed here."
Elizabeth believes she was targeted because she was vulnerable. She said : "He only took around 210 from me. I think the long- term aim was to get my house." She added that staff at the law firm's office in Clarkston Road, Glasgow seemed aware of the deception, making excuses when she asked why people called him John.
She said : "I was so angry that I was going to attend Davidson's funeral. I wish I had done just for O'Donnell's reaction. I find it incredible that he has been able to get away with this, especially given that the Law Society was warned what was going on."
Law Society chiefs have refused to say if other clients were also duped and declined to comment on the case. A senior legal insider said that O'Donnell could now face criminal prosecution for working as a solicitor without a practising certificate.
BID TO BEAT BAN AT LEGAL BODY'S CHRISTMAS PARTY
Another lawyer tried to strike a deal for O'Donnell at a Law Society Christmas party in 2009. A Scottish Solicitors' Discipline Tribunal report said Steven Gold asked Law Society prosecutor Elaine Motion to consider dropping complaints against O'Donnell if he agreed to surrender his practising certificate.
Motion met O'Donnell as the Society considered five more complaints. But because he was not struck off by the SSDT, Motion decided that O'Donnell "may be hearing from her again".
LINKS TO SOLICITOR PAID BY OUR TAXES
Elizabeth was referred to Davidson Fraser by taxpayer funded lawyer Gilbert Anderson.
Anderson is a Citizens Advice Bureau adviser at Hamilton Sheriff Court whose wages are paid by the Scottish Legal Aid Board. He said yesterday : "I gave her a list of firms and she asked if I knew of any particular firm. Davidson Fraser were not specified."
However, Anderson's name appeared as an employee on the firm's letter headed paper in July 2011.
He said : "The moment Mrs Campbell brought that to my notice I was down to Davidson Fraser to find out exactly what they were doing. Mr Davidson said he was under the impression I was going to work for them. But I said no, I said I would consider. It was agreed that he was to remove my name."
Davidson also used a room to meet clients at the volunteer-run South Side Advice Centre in Glasgow. But he was kicked out in October due to a number of complaints.