Ex-Freshfields partner Ryan Beckwith has lodged an appeal in the High Court against the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal's finding against him.
A junior lawyer in his team, known as 'Person A', had complained to the Solicitors Regulation Authority that Beckwith took advantage of her while she was working out her notice period.
Beckwith, who was Person A's appraisal partner, admitted to kissing her in a pub following after-work drinks and then accompanying her in a taxi back to her home. He conceded to the tribunal that sexual activity then took place, something which he admitted was "extremely stupid" and that he would regret for the rest of his life.
But he claimed it was a mutual mistake and a "consensual sexual encounter between two adults".
Despite Beckwith's team's insistence that the issue of consent was central to the charges against him, the tribunal made no finding on the matter, saying it was "not an issue that needed to be determined". Instead the tribunal found that Person A was so drunk her decision-making ability was impaired, and that Beckwith should have known his conduct was inappropriate.
Ruling that his actions caused "harm to the reputation of the profession" and "significant harm" to Person A, it fined the married restructuring partner £35,000 and ordered him to pay costs of £200,000.
Beckwith resigned from Freshfields before the SDT's decision. "He has been crushed by this process" said his barrister, Alisdair Williamson QC.
ROF's tip for High Court success.
The tribunal ruled that a fine, rather than the ban sought by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, was "appropriate and proportionate in the circumstances", explaining that there was no suggestion Beckwith had "coerced or manipulated Person A", and that Beckwith's conduct was caused "by a lapse in his judgment that was highly unlikely to be repeated".
Some observers were baffled by the SDT's decision, branding it a fudge. "Two drunk people have sex and one of them pays a quarter mill and loses his job? Or else he was not drunk and took advantage - in which case it is rape and the result should be banning. Which is it? It's an either or situation and blurred lines here don't make sense", said one RollOnFriday reader.
After Beckwith lodged his High Court appeal against the decision on liability and costs, the SRA announced that it would not dispute the SDT's choice of a light sanction. The SRA declined to comment on Beckwith's appeal, while the SDT did not respond to a request for comment.