Friday 23 February 2018

Retired solicitor Brian O'Donnell and his wife fail in Supreme Court appeal

Brian and Mary Pat O'Donnell
Brian and Mary Pat O'Donnell

Tim Healy

RETIRED solicitor Brian O'Donnell and his wife, Dr Mary Patricia O'Donnell, have failed in a Supreme Court appeal seeking to set aside a December 2011 summary judgment order against them for €71.5m.

They claimed the High Court judge who entered the judgment against them in favour of Bank of Ireland should not have dealt with their case.

This was because the judge, Mr Justice Peter Kelly, now a member of the Court of Appeal, previously held shares in Bank of Ireland and had a business relationship with it.   The judge was also objectively biased due to prejudicial comments he made during their case, they claimed.

Mr Justice Kelly, in 2014, recused himself from dealing with any more matters relating to the O'Donnells although the judge took serious issue with the legal and factual basis advanced in support of the recusal request. 

He sent the case to another judge, Mr Justice Brian McGovern, to ensure a speedy hearing although Judge McGovern was also asked to recuse himself, which was refused.

The O'Donnells brought an appeal to the Supreme Court seeking to set aside the 2011 judgment on grounds of objective bias and lack of disclosure of Mr Justice Kelly's relationship with the bank.

A three-judge court today said because the O'Donnells are declared bankrupts, only the court-appointed official in charge of their bankruptcy can bring the case.   They had no standing in law (locus standii) to do so and the appeal was dismissed.

The same court said two of the O'Donnell children, Blake and Bruce, could bring an appeal over the refusal of Mr Justice McGovern for a stay on Bank of Ireland's bid to strike out their (sons) defence to certain proceedings. 

They claimed Mr Justice McGovern should have recused himself from the case because of his, and his wife's, associations with Bank of Ireland.

Mr Justice McGovern refused to recuse saying his wife was in a partnership which he had no involvement in.

While he had a mortgage and current account with Bank of Ireland, he said nothing would ever get done in a country as small as this if everybody had to recuse themselves on the basis of their banking arrangements.

The Supreme Court said it would not grant a stay to the sons on the matter but would give directions for a speedy hearing of that appeal.

The court also dismissed a related appeal by the O'Donnell parents concerning ownership of shares in certain companies.  They sought declarations those shares were not the parents' property and should be transferred to their sons.

The court again ruled the parents, as bankrupts, did not have standing in this matter.

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