Tuesday 6 December 2016

Taxpayer to foot €1m legal bill for Curtin inquiry

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

Published 26/07/2011 | 07:36

THE taxpayer will fork out almost €1m to disgraced former judge Brian Curtin's legal team to cover their costs from a Dail inquiry into his fitness to be a judge.

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Mr Curtin's lawyers are being made a take-it-or-leave-it offer of about €970,000 from the Oireachtas, the Irish Independent has learnt.

The settlement is just over half the almost €1.9m the lawyers were claiming in costs arising from their work in defence of the judge.

Mr Curtin faced impeachment proceedings after charges of child pornography possession were dropped. The former Circuit Court judge subsequently retired on grounds of ill health before he could be called as a witness at the inquiry.

The Oireachtas inquiry never actually held public hearings or got to quiz Mr Curtin personally and was bogged down in legal challenges for two years.

However, the Supreme Court awarded the judge his costs, giving the Oireachtas no choice but to pay up.

Mr Curtin was represented by solicitor Robert Pierse and barrister John Rogers.

Mr Pierse is a Kerry-based solicitor and Mr Rogers is a senior counsel, former Attorney General and adviser to former Labour Party leader and Tanaiste Dick Spring.

After 18 months of negotiations to bring the €1.9m bill down, the Oireachtas is trying to finally settle the matter.

The authorities appear to believe that if the costs claim went to court, the case would simply end up costing the taxpayer even more.

Although Mr Curtin never appeared before the committee, he was represented by his legal team at 35 meetings.

The Oireachtas authorities are hoping the latest offer of €970,000 will be accepted by the legal team. The taxpayer is obliged to foot the bill, but the Oireachtas has room for manoeuvre in the negotiations.

If Mr Curtin's legal team does not accept the offer, then the case is set to go back to the courts to determine how much should be paid.

A spokesman for the Houses of the Oireachtas said last night it had no comment to make on the matter.

The payment of the legal costs will bring to an end a saga stretching back almost 10 years.

Gardai raided Mr Curtin's home in 2002 and seized a computer alleged to contain 280 pornographic images of children. He was charged in 2003 with possession of child pornography, but his trial ended in 2004 when Judge Carroll Moran ruled the warrant used to search his home was out of date.

ACQUITTED

Mr Curtin was acquitted on the charges of possession of child pornography.

The Government initiated impeachment proceedings against Mr Curtin in 2004 and an Oireachtas committee was set up to enquire into the affair. The proceedings were held up by challenges to the constitutionality of the inquiry that went all the way to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court ruled in March 2006 that the inquiry could go ahead. The committee took custody of the computer from the gardai and hired experts to examine it.

Mr Curtin wrote to President Mary McAleese, via Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, in November 2006 submitting his resignation from the Circuit Court on the grounds of ill-health.

His resignation came just days before he was due to appear before the committee to give evidence. It also came just days after he had completed five years on the bench -- the minimum required to qualify for a pension.

Following his resignation, the Oireachtas committee announced it would not proceed with its inquiry.

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