Leech fell out with lawyers over libel case fees, court told
THERE has been a breakdown in the relationship between €1.8m libel award winner Monica Leech and her lawyers over the fees and advice, the High Court heard yesterday.
The communications consultant agreed before the court to pay fees due to the lawyers who brought a number of libel actions on her behalf.
The solicitors, McCann FitzGerald, were yesterday given the court's permission not to represent her any more, or "come off record", as it is known legally, after she undertook to pay the fees once she receives a bill of costs.
This application was being made because there had been an irretrievable breakdown in the relationship between her and the solicitors, David Holland SC, for McCann FitzGerald, told the court.
Ms Leech told the court she did have the money to pay the fees but she felt the solicitors were more interested in the fees than the outcome of the case -- a claim strongly denied by McCann FitzGerald.
Mr Holland said this suggestion now that she had the funds to pay was "a novelty" and contrary to what she had asserted to the solicitors over a period of time.
The court heard the firm had represented her in three separate libel actions against the Independent Newspapers group.
One involved a €1.87m award in June 2009 over a number of 'Evening Herald' articles in 2004 and this case is under appeal to the Supreme Court on the question of the size of the award only.
In the meantime, the High Court directed she be paid €750,000 plus €100,000 costs as a condition of getting permission to appeal. This money had been paid, the court heard.
Another action was against the Irish Independent, which was unsuccessful but which Ms Leech is appealing. The third is against the 'Sunday Independent', which has yet to be heard.
Mr Holland said there had been a breakdown in the relationship that was also over fees but primarily related to her willingness to accept the advice given to her by her legal advisers.
As a result, from some time ago, she had retained other solicitors who performed certain services on her behalf but did not come "on record" for her, he said. Ms Leech, who was in court with her husband, represented herself.
In an affidavit read to court by Mr Holland, Ms Leech said she felt McCann FitzGerald were pressurising her into paying the costs even though the case was under appeal.
She was concerned that the solicitors were more interested in the fees than the case.
Mr Holland also said his clients were concerned that apart from repeatedly saying she was unable to pay the fees, she had refused to give a specific type of undertaking that would have secured their payment.
Asked by the High Court president, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, if she was willing to give an undertaking to the court to pay the fees, she said she was prepared to do so.
The judge ordered that she be furnished with a bill of costs from the firm and that files on her cases be handed over to her or her new lawyers. She would pay the fees forthwith for the various sets of proceedings and they would be taxed in default of agreement, he said. The judge agreed to allow McCann FitzGerald to come off record.
He reminded her that failure to abide with her undertaking could have consequences including an application by McCann FitzGerald to have her held in contempt of court if she failed to do so.