Wednesday 13 December 2017

Judge refuses anonymity for solicitor with €200,000 deficit

High Court president, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns
High Court president, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns

Tim Healy

President of the High Court Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns has refused to grant anonymity to a solicitor facing proceedings over an admitted deficit of at least €200,000 in his client account.

The Law Society is seeking the suspension of Michael H O'Neill, a sole practitioner in Naas, Co Kildare, along with a freezing order on his accounts.   A hearing of those applications was adjourned to next week.

The court heard the society had found a deficit of at least €200,000 arising out of transfers from his client to office account.   However, the actual deficit may be as high as €370,000, counsel for the society said.

The fact that the deficit had occurred over a two years "strongly suggests" his practice to had possibly a tenuous grasp on survival, counsel said.

This was in circumstances of where the solicitor had admitted the deficit and where there has been a single substantial payment from an estate into the client account which accounts of 86 per cent of all funds in it.

Sean Sexton, solicitor for Mr O'Neill, asked for time to file a replying affidavit as there were certain facts which have not been documented, including that it was he (Sexton) who had brought Mr O'Neill's situation to the attention of the Law Society.

Mr Sexton asked the court to allow the matter to be held in private for at least another week to give his client a chance to plug the hole in his account.  Any concerns about funds in the practice are being dealt with through cheques having to be co-signed.

Mr Sexton said such anonymity orders had been granted by Mr Justice Kearns' predecessor, including one case involving an €800,000 deficit and another of €1m.   This had given the solicitors involved time to address those deficits, Mr Sexton said.

Counsel for the society opposed the anonymity application saying naming Mr O'Neill ensures his clients as well as other solicitors who deal with him can be kept up to date.

Mr Justice Kearns said he would not suspend or freeze Mr O'Neill's accounts at this point but he would also not grant him anonymity in circumstances of admitted wrongdoing.

*This article was amended on July 21, 2017

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