One of the country’s top sports lawyers has been cleared of allegations that she was responsible for using a company’s client account to pay third parties involved in football transfers.
Liz Ellen, now director of specialty firm Livida Sport, is said to have “caused or authorized” the use of Reya’s Mishcon client account as a bank facility for five transactions while at the company between 2011 and 2015.
Last month, the Disciplinary Court of Lawyers understood that the multi-million pound payments had been made to so-called “deal breakers” who could prevent a transfer and that Mishcon was viewed as a reliable intermediary by the agents and the football club involved.
Announcing the court’s decision today, President Andrew Spooner said the allegation against Ellen – who he said was a “relatively junior lawyer at the time” – was that she “caused or authorized payments to be made to and from the company’s customer account in circumstances amounting to the provision of a bank facility ”.
Regarding the allegation that Ellen “authorized” the payments, the court held that Ellen “did not have the authority to authorize the payments and could not be said to have authorized them. “.
As to whether Ellen “caused” the payments, Spooner said: “The payment requests had been made under circumstances where they needed to be authorized first by the relevant partner and then by the authorizing partners.
“The partner in charge of the case and the authorizing partners were each responsible for ensuring that any payment was made in accordance with the lawyers’ accounting rules. Under these circumstances, we find that there has been a break in the chain of causation such that Ms. Ellen cannot be said to have caused the payments. So we find that [Ellen] neither caused nor authorized the payments to be made.
Mishcon has previously admitted accounting violations in four of the five transactions, the admissions according to Spooner were “properly made”.
But he added that the court found that an allegation regarding the fifth transaction was proven “because we do not accept payment of money by [Mishcon] was a necessary part of the legal services provided or that the lack of trust between the parties changed the status of receipt of payment of the sums so that the company did not break the rules of the bank facility ”.
Addressing the court on the penalty issue, Mishcon’s lawyer Chloe Carpenter QC said the firm “very much regrets and apologizes for the violation,” which she called “unintentional.”
Ellen’s attorney, Simon Morgan, partner at Barnfather Solicitors, commented: “Ms Ellen welcomes the court ruling, dismissing the allegation against her. The case dates back more than 10 years when Ms Ellen was a junior lawyer working under the direct supervision of experienced partners in the firm. Over the ensuing period, she established a reputation as one of the top sports lawyers in the UK. its regulatory obligations seriously and will continue to do so.
“Ms. Ellen is grateful to her legal team from Richard Coleman QC, Marianne Butler, both Fountain Court Chambers and Barnfather Solicitors for their support throughout this difficult time.”