independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Solicitor who used clients' money for loans is struck off

A SOLICITOR who used clients' money to operate an informal money lending scheme has been struck off for misconduct by the High Court.

Operating what was "effectively a form of Ponzi scheme" Brendan MacNamara, a former partner in Devitt, Doorley MacNamara, The Valley, Roscrea, Co Tipperary, used money he received from clients for property purchases to pay others in his "informal money lending scheme", Sean Guerin, counsel for the Law Society, told the court.

Joan O'Neill, a solicitor in the society's regulation department, said in an affidavit that the misconduct complaints related to liabilities over a number of conveyancing transactions which left three clients at a total loss of around €1.16m.

In a case involving one of his clients, €270,000 was borrowed from Roscrea Credit Union to purchase a specific property and an undertaking was given by Mr MacNamara to hold in trust the title to the property for the credit union until the transaction was completed.

However, no title was obtained and the money which had been drawn down to purchase the property was paid out instead to people who were moneylenders, Ms O'Neill said.

The second client borrowed €170,000 from Bank of Ireland to buy a property over which there was already a charge and which Mr MacNamara was aware of, Ms O'Neill said.

Draconian

The bank paid the money to the solicitor but title to the property was not received.

In the third case, the solicitor received a payment of €750,000 from a client for the intended purchase of six units in a property development, Ms O'Neill said.

However, only €305,000 of this was paid to the vendor and the solicitor failed to obtain title to the property, she said.

The court was told that at a Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal hearing in July 2011 over complaints against Mr MacNamara and two other solicitors in the firm, Sheelagh Doorley and Garech Doorley, no misconduct findings were made against the Doorleys but Mr MacNamara was found guilty, censured and and ordered to pay €12,000 to the Law Society's compensation fund.

However, High Court president Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns was told the Society did not consider this adequate and was seeking that he be struck off.

What Mr MacNamara did went beyond gross negligence and was a dereliction of duty, Mr Guerin, for the Society, said.

While the three clients who were at a loss may have been "wise to the ways of the world", it did not excuse what Mr MacNamara did, Mr Guerin said.

Mr MacNamara's solicitor, Sean Sexton, said striking his client off would be a draconian.

But Mr Justice Kearns said he took into account the strong views of the Society and he believed a strike off was adequate.

Irish Independent

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