John Young told the Law Society - whichaims to uphold highest standards of conduct among solicitors - that he regretted claims made against him two years ago had become an election issue.
His decision comesthree days after the allegationswere made public at a conference offemale lawyers.Although Mr Young, 60, was not named, his identity was common knowledge among society members.
In a letter yesterday to Charles Elly, the out-going president, Mr Young, a partner at the City law firm Cameron Markby Hewitt, wrote: "The incidents in question (which however minor they might be, I naturally regret) were the subject of full inquiries at the time by the then president and his fellow office-holders, and I regarded the matter as closed."
But yesterday Eileen Pembridge, the lawyer who at the weekend lifted the lid on the claims, said Mr Young should have gone two years ago. "The fact that the society continued to back him as their candidate shows that it is loath to understand the problem, loath to accept it and loath to deal with it. By backing him two years ago, they knew they were taking a risk..." She was concerned that the society had not produced acode of conduct on the issue.
It is understood the society investigated allegations of sexual harassment of members and staff of the society's council. Mr Young was given a warning, but no disciplinaryaction was taken. There have been no further complaints.
Ms Pembridge, who runs Fisher Meredith, a south London legal aid practice, is one of two council members who have forced the society to hold an open ballot for the presidency for the first time in 40 years. Normally it would automatically be handed to the vice-president.
She emphasised yesterday that the allegations were only a small part of her decision to challenge the "old boy" tradition.
Martin Mears, the other candidate, is also opposed to the way the Law Society has been operating.
Yesterday Mr Young said the fact that he was the first candidate to be opposed for many years had "obviously affected my own position".
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