Monday 18 December 2017

Disgraced judge's €1m in legal fees paid by taxpayer

Brian Curtin
Brian Curtin

Fiach Kelly and Fionnan Sheahan

THE taxpayer forked 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.

The House of the Oireachtas annual report revealed it paid over €977,794 in legal fees last year.

The money was paid to solicitors Pierse and Fitzgibbon, who acted for Judge Curtin.

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.

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

The payment of the legal costs brings an end to 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child pornography, but his trial ended in 2004 when Judge Carroll Moran ruled the warrant used to search his home was out of date.

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 then President Mary McAleese, via then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, in November 2006 submitting his resignation 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.

Irish Independent

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