DRUNKEN SOLICITOR WAS ESCORTED FROM COURT `

A drunken district judge had to be escorted from court after she forcibly kissed a solicitor and swore at a prosecutor.

Esther Cunningham, 54, caused uproar when she drank brandy before appearing as a solicitor to represent her cousin.

She demanded to know the names of people in court and refused to sit down, the Solicitors’ Disciplinary Tribunal heard.

Cunningham interrupted as magistrates gave a ruling and had to be led from the court room by a security guard.

She told an usher to ‘f*** off’ when he refused to give her the names of the magistrates and referred to the CPS lawyer as ‘a f***wit.’

Cunningham later said the lawyer ‘has been called worse things in his time.’

She explained she had been taking migraine drugs which made her sway and suffered from an illness that made her breath smell as if she had been drinking.

Six months later Cunningham was drunk again when she taught students on a legal training course on court room representation, the tribunal heard.

The concerned chief executive of the firm behind the course sat in on a lecture and she told a member of her governing body: ‘You hold him, I’ll hit him.’

Cunningham represented her cousin at Grantham Magistrates’ Court in Lincolnshire on November 8, 2006, who had been looking after a dangerous dog owned by her son.

Mr George Marriott, for the Solicitors’ Regulatory Authority, said: ‘The respondent forcibly kissed another solicitor and aggressively demanded to know the identity of other people within the court room.

‘She behaved as if drunk and refused sit down until encouraged to do so by her assistant.

‘She interrupted the magistrates whilst they gave their ruling and was escorted out of the courtroom by a security guard.’

Mr Marriott added: ‘The respondent also referred to the CPS prosecutor, Mr C, as ‘f***wit

‘This the respondent claimed, was not meant to be offensive, but was intended to be derogatory.’

When she was asked to explain her conduct the lawyer wrote: ‘I realise I should not have attended court as my behaviour was likely to be somewhat robust.’

Mr Marriott added: ‘The respondent also denied being drunk and told the Solicitors’ Regulatory Authority she had migraine, which explained her swaying and the need to hold on to the bench to steady herself.

‘The respondent further told the SRA that she suffered from a medical condition which can make it smell as if she has been drinking.’

Cunningham went on to wrongly claim she did not appear before the court in her capacity as a solicitor and had popped in ‘to see what was going on.’

The lawyer ran the firm Cunningham Training Limited and was the tutor on a two day course for solicitors on May 17 2007.

A delegate from the Solicitors’ Regulatory Authority attended the course and said Cunningham looked drunk on both days.

Cunningham twice suggested to the SRA member that she should hold down the chief executive so she could punch him.

Staff at the hotel where the course was held said Cunningham had been ‘rude, threatening and abusive.’

Asked to explain herself, Cunningham told her governing body she had an ‘outgoing personality’ and ‘bold’ teaching style.

She denied she was drunk.

Cunningham is a deputy district judge and adjudicates largely on civil matters in Lincolnshire.

She has practiced since 1980 had run her firm from her home at Swallow House, Barkston Road, Grantham.

Cunningham admitted that she impaired and her integrity and compromised the good repute of the profession, failed to act in the best interests of a client, bought the profession into disrepute and failed to provide a prompt response to the SRA.

Her solicitor Mr Richard Nelson told the hearing Cunningham now accepts she had a drink problem.

Cunningham dabbed tears from her eyes as he added: ‘She is embarrassed, ashamed and very apologetic.

‘This is the beginning of the final stage of her humiliation.’

Mr Nelson said Cunningham had a distinguished career as a deputy district judge but had personal problems and had been in an abusive relationship.

He said on the day of the court case Cunningham had been ’emotional.’

‘She acknowledges that in order to fortify herself she had some brandy.

‘The forcible kissing of a solicitor is something that has been difficult to accept. The solicitor concerned is a friend of over 30 years standing.’

Cunningham had been attending counselling and no longer teaches.

‘These events are an aberration during a period when she was not in control,’ Mr Nelson said.

Suspending her for six months, tribunal chairman Andrew Boyd Holmes said: ‘This has not been an easy case for the tribunal to determine the correct sanction.

‘Mr Nelson urges leniency. However, the tribunal must look carefully at the circumstances in which the respondent finds herself today.

‘The conduct was simply not acceptable and cannot go unpunished.’

In addition to the suspension Cunningham was ordered to pay costs of £6,200.

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