Thursday 14 December 2017

Further two-year sentence for former judge Heather Perrin in 'dishonest transaction'

Heather Perrin
Heather Perrin

Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

THE first judge in the history of the State to be convicted of a serious crime has been sentenced a further two year prison term for a "dishonest transaction" involving a client when she served as a solicitor.

Former District Court judge Heather Perrin is already serving a two-and-a-half-year sentence at An Dochas women's prison for deception and her new sentence will run from the time that she pleaded guilty to the new offence.

Last month Perrin, who resigned from the bench in the wake of her conviction, pleaded guilty to a new charge.

Perrin of Lambay Court, Malahide, Co Dublin admitted falsifying an account, with an intent of making a gain on a date between May 2004 and February 2009.

Det Sgt Patrick Linehan of the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation told Dublin Circuit Criminal Court said that they became aware of the circumstances of the case after Ms Perrin's firm was taken over by another after she was appointed, in 2009, as a District Court judge.

The focus of the complex  investigation related to the discrepancy between the €150,000 proceeds of the sale of a house - monies that were meant to be held on trust for a client's son following an inheritance issue - and the €116,370 that was ultimately transferred into an EBS account held for the child's benefit.

Det Sgt Lenihan said Heather Perrin  was interviewed on two occasions by gardai and queried about fees of some €35,909 that had been charged to the client in respect of the inheritance matter at a time when Mrs Perrin was representing her client in a second, family law matter, relating to another child.

In respect of the monies that were supposed to be held on trust for the woman's son - but were in fact held in Ms Perrin's general client account - Ms Perrin said that had always intended to open a separate account for the benefit of the minor in the inheritance action.

Mrs Perrin told gardai that she had difficulty trying to get his mother into her office for the purposes of opening the account.

The mother of two, who received free legal aid for the family issue in respect of her second child, denied that this was the case.

The woman said it was never her intention that monies in her son's case were to be used for the family matter, the court heard.

Det Sgt Lenihan agreed with Paul Burns SC, for Ms Perrin, that the accounting and bookkeeping procedures in Ms Perrin's legal firm were "haphazard and somewhat chaotic".

Mr Burns said that by pleading guilty, Ms Perrin - who offset fees charged for the family law matter against the probate matter - had avoided subjecting the court and a jury to what would have been a "complex" case.

When the accounts were reconciled, the actual shortfall was some €2,623 said Mr Burns, who added that Ms Perrin was "coming to terms" with her first conviction when she pleaded guilty to the second charge shortly before the trial was due to begin earlier this year.

Mr Burns said Ms Perrin has always been a very hard working individual throughout her legal career.

The setting up of her practice was " a huge event for her" said Mr Burns, adding that she had -like many sole practitioners - difficulty keeping on top of her accounts.

She had to spend a very considerable sum of money to reconcile her accounts and "get to the bottom of all this" said Mr Burns who said that Mrs Perrin had "effectively posted" her client's fees against that of her client's son's inheritance case.

Mrs Perrin had lost her "career, standing in the community, pension  and her liberty" said Mr Burns.

Mrs Perrin is having "a lot of trouble sleeping" and this is one of her  major difficulties at present, the Circuit Criminal Court heard.

Mr Burns said that Mrs Perrin apologised for what had occurred in this instance and in hindsight should not have posted her client's fees against that of the client's son.

"Wrongdoing by a solicitor is always a matter of concern" said Mr Burns who added that the amount involved was on the lower rung of the scale and a lesser offence for which Mrs Perrin had first been convicted.

Mrs Perrin had been co-oeprative, had made admissions and had pleaded guilty, said Mr Burns in plea of mitigation.

There was "no question" of any shortfall  in the account not being met said Mr Burns.

Sentencing Ms Perrin this morning, Judge Mary Ellen Ring said that this was the second time Mrs Perrin had appeared before the courts on foot of a dishonest transaction involving a client arising from her time as a solicitor.

Ms Perrin was convicted last year of deceiving an old family friend into leaving almost half of his €1m estate to her children.

The 61-year-old included her two children as main beneficiaries of Thomas Davis' will in January 2009 while acting as his solicitor.

She was appointed a judge in February of that year but resigned following her conviction.

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