A Bantersaurus Rex
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal has fined a solicitor for "joking" to a black secretary that he'd joined the Ku Klux Klan, and making a racist joke at a firm party. The tribunal also found that the lawyer touched the secretary's bottom on numerous occasions.
Samuel Charkham, 68, a partner at Simkins at the time of the alleged incidents, was fined £30,000 and ordered to pay costs of £21,000. The tribunal said Charkham's failures were "very serious", but he avoided being struck off.
In one of the charges brought by the SRA, Charkham "joked" that he had joined the Ku Klux Klan to Person A (who is black), while wearing a white A4 envelope as a hat. Person A, a secretary at the time, said she was shocked by Charkham's behaviour and wanted to quickly finish the task she was working on, so she could go outside and get herself together.
A former colleague who had witnessed the incident told Charkham that it wasn't funny, to which he responded it was only a joke, the tribunal heard.
"I was being playful," the Charkham told the tribunal, adding that "I know it sounds ridiculous in retrospect." He denied that his actions were directed at Person A, as there were other secretaries in the area. When questioned, he accepted that his behaviour had been "disgraceful," according to reports this week in The Law Society Gazette.
Charkham said he did not know fully what the KKK stood for, but that he had developed a more detailed understanding since the incident. "I wish I had known what it represented at that time," he told the tribunal.
In another incident, Person A, was at the firm's Christmas dinner when the partner make a racist joke in her vicinity. The secretary said she caught the "odd word" including "c*on." She said the joke caused her colleagues to gasp and turn to look at her.
A colleague at the time told the tribunal that the joke by Charkham was a play on the word "tycoon." Another former Simkins employee and witness said the punchline was "the kind of joke I have not heard for 25 years."
Charkham admitted to the tribunal that he had told the joke, conceding that he had an "old fashioned" sense of humour. "I have told racist jokes in the past in a very different political climate than we are now, and I would never dream to do the same thing again." He said, "the Black Lives Matter movement did not exist four years ago".
"We do not accept for one moment these were jokes," said the SRA's lawyer. To describe Charkham's conduct as "banter" would be "a grotesque misnomer and should be rejected in the strongest possible terms," said the SRA.
The tribunal also found allegations of misconduct against Charkham proven that he had inappropriately touched the secretary's bottom at least 18 times on various occasions in the office or at work events, over a period of four years. However, Charkham denied touching Person A, and told the tribunal that the allegations were false.
The tribunal also found that Charkham touched another female colleague's bottom, although Charkham said in his defence that it was a "playful kick".
In mitigation, Charkham's lawyer provided the tribunal with a list of character references, saying "the references individually and collectively are positive and compelling and describe the real person sitting before you."
"Simkins is committed to promoting a working environment in which all individuals are treated with dignity and respect and in which all can thrive regardless of their background or personal circumstances," a spokesman for the firm told RollOnFriday. "We take any allegation of discrimination or inappropriate behaviour seriously and will promptly investigate any such allegation and then take the appropriate action.”
Charkham left Simkins around two years ago, and joined Portner Law. A spokesman for Portner told RollOnFriday "we removed Sam as a consultant as soon as we were aware of the allegations of his conduct prior to joining us."