Wednesday 20 November 2019

Solicitor struck off for misconduct in representation

Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns
Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns

A woman says she gave €40,000 in upfront fees to a solicitor representing her in a sexual abuse claim only to find out later the barristers instructed for the action had agreed to be paid only if they won the case, the High Court was told.

Greg O'Neill, formerly practising at the Capel Building, Mary's Abbey, Dublin, was yesterday struck off the roll of solicitors by the court on a number of admitted counts of misconduct including for failing refund fees to the woman.

He also admitted misconduct in relation to failing to properly represent a widow at an inquest and only paying out €69,000 from an €85,000 settlement to another client.

Mr O'Neill apologised to the clients involved and said the problems in his practice arose due to chronic depressive illness under which he laboured for two years before it was diagnosed in 2009.

High Court President, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, rejected an application on Mr O'Neill's behalf not to strike him off and grant him a limited practising certificate so that he could, once medically fit, return to work and address the outstanding financial matters involving former clients.

David Irwin, a solicitor in the Law Society's regulation department, said in an affidavit that the woman who asked Mr O'Neill to act for her in a claim over sexual abuse complained she had paid him €40,000 in advance to represent her.   She dismissed him in February 2011 because of ongoing problems in progressing her case.

She later found out the senior and junior counsel instructed by Mr O'Neill had taken the case on a "no foal no fee basis", meaning they would only get paid if she won the case.   She was eventually paid €15,250 from the Law Society's compensation fund in relation to the money she paid him.

In her evidence to a Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, which investigated the complaints against him, the woman said she felt "devastated, disappointed, tormented, because Mr O'Neill was aware of the emotional trauma I was going through at the time."

She had also suffered a number of other traumas at the time including losing her home and her parents getting sick.  "I lost practically everything I had and Greg was aware of all this while he held on to my money."

A widow from Donegal who employed Mr O'Neill in 2005 to represent her at the inquest into the death of her husband complained to the Law Society she had to pay him money up front, without receipts, but that he failed to communicate with her or represent her in a professional manner.

She said she felt angry and upset.  With her life destroyed, she said, she wanted to die but she employed Mr O'Neill and then was only "given so much more grief and pain, added to the pain I already had.  He did not represent me at all at the inquest."

She believed he needed to apologise for "a massive wrong" for her and her children to have a kind of closure of this matter.

Another woman who was awarded just under €85,000 in settlement of a personal injuries case in November 2010 only received €69,000 from Mr O'Neill despite the fact that the insurance company involved had sent him the full amount. 

The woman had to make a claim on the Law Society's compensation fund and was eventually paid just under €16,000 from that fund.

Mr O'Neill said the reason the money had not been paid was due to accounting errors.

A man in his early 80s who employed Mr O'Neill to act for him complained the solicitor "did not raise one letter" to get his case off the ground.  

He was eventually refunded €10,000 by Mr O'Neill who also promised another €1,235 in interest but did not get that money which the court yesterday ordered should be paid.

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