“Panicked” solicitor suspended for signing witness statements himself

Signatures: Judge showed displeasure with costs recommendation

A sole practitioner with over 35 years’ experience has been suspended from practice for nine months after signing witness statements himself and attempting to mislead the court.

Approving an agreed outcome, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard that Nicholas Samuel Usiskin ran out of time to meet a court deadline, “panicked” and wrote in the signatures of his claimant client and two witnesses, and then signed a statement of truth in respect of each.

He admitted two allegations of attempting to mislead both the defendant and the court. A third allegation was withdrawn because of expert medical evidence from a consultant psychiatrist. But he denied a breach of professional rules.

Mr Usiskin was born in 1947 and admitted as a solicitor in 1981. He practises as Usiskin & Co in Oxford. The documents in question were submitted to Oxford County Court as part of a debt recovery case against a litigant in person.

The misconduct was prosecuted after Mr Usiskin’s client, AT – who was ultimately successful in his claim – reported him to the Solicitors Regulation Authority in 2016.

During the May 2015 trial, the misconduct became evident and the solicitor immediately admitted what he had done and apologised. AT was awarded damages but the judge ordered that in assessing costs, the false signatures should be taken into account.

Mr Usiskin explained he had signed the statements to avoid missing the court deadline. He described his actions as “extremely stupid and inept”, and admitted that he had acted with a lack of integrity.

He claimed that the witness statements were accurate, and that AT was aware he would sign on behalf of the three. He did not attempt to imitate the signatures.

Although the judge ordered the signatures should be taken into account at detailed assessment stage, he did not complain the court was misled.

The tribunal noted that Mr Usiskin could have submitted the statements to the court unsigned and applied for relief later.

Giving evidence, the psychiatrist, Professor Tom Sensky of Imperial College, London, testified that at the time, Mr Usiskin was experiencing a moderate depressive episode and that it explained his behaviour.

The SDT acknowledged that Mr Usiskin “found it difficult to deal with his client”.

It also agreed with the prosecution that “misleading the court or as in this case an attempt to mislead was one of the most serious disciplinary offences that a solicitor could commit” and could potentially be punished with a striking off.

The tribunal found the solicitor had “direct control over the circumstances that gave rise to the misconduct”, although his signing the witness statements had been a “spontaneous act”. His culpability was reduced by the depression.

The reputation of the profession had been harmed, although “fortunately” his actions had not prejudiced his client’s case.

It concluded that “the respondent should have known that signing witness statements in the names of others was wrong” although this should be viewed in light of his medical condition.

The tribunal said the medical evidence “constituted powerful personal mitigation”. It agreed that “a period of suspension was an appropriate and proportionate sanction in the particular circumstances”.

It ordered a nine-month suspension and added conditions to Mr Usiskin’s practise after that period, forbidding him from operating as a sole practitioner “for the future protection of the public”. It explained this was because the medical report was not up to date.

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