Monday 23 April 2018

Solicitor who signed colleague's name on documents struck off

Tim Healy

A SOLICITOR who signed undertakings in relation to bank loans on property using a colleague's signature has been struck off by the High Court for professional misconduct.

Patrick J. Munnelly, formerly of Fair and Murtagh solicitors, Northgate Street, Athlone, Westmeath, was found guilty by a disciplinary tribunal of wrongfully signing the signature of his former partner, Martin Egan, on documents related to three properties in Athlone in which he had an interest or owned.

In doing so, he undertook as a solicitor that AIB would gain good marketable title and first legal charge over the properties on which loans were taken out.

Mr Munnelly, who resigned from the practice in May 2009, claimed he should have informed Mr Egan what he did but that this was an oversight and not any deliberate attempt to mislead the bank or to conceal the undertakings from other partners in the firm. He did not accept the bank had relied solely on his undertakings and argued it had been given several other items of security which would have covered the borrowings.

His counsel, Gabriel Gavigan, today urged the president of the High Court Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns not to strike him off because all the properties related to him and no member of the public was at a loss.

The undertaking in relation to one of the three properties had already been dealt with and he was confident matters related to the other two could be resolved, counsel said.

He was still a young man and counsel urged that he be allowed to continue practising under the supervision of another solicitor. He had done "something stupid" while under pressure and had forgot to tell his partner about it, he added.

Paul Anthony McDermott BL, for the Law Society, said it was not a once-off matter but three documents on which the signature was forged.

Earlier Mr McDermott said the news that his signature had been forged "came as a shock" to Mr Egan.

A disciplinary tribunal had recommended Mr Munnelly be allowed to continue practising with a limited certificate because he had a clean record up until this, but the Law Society recommended a striking off in light of the fact that there were a number of stages where he could have owned up but he did not, Mr McDermott said.

Mr Justice Kearns said he had openly admitted what he did and he had no option but to strike him off.

Among the conclusions reached by Jim Ryan, a chartered accountant with the Law Society, following an investigation in 2009, were that Mr Munnelly had wrongfully represented that AIB would gain good marketable title and first legal charge/mortgage to the properties. They were a one-acre site at Meadowbook Park, a commercial site at Blyry Industrial Estate and a house at Northgate Street, all Athlone.

In an affidavit from John Elliot, the Law Society's registrar of solicitors, he said there were 18 findings of misconduct against him, including three of receiving money from AIB knowing the bank was relying on his undertakings.

There were also three findings of exposing his partners in Fair and Murtagh to potential liability to the bank over the subsequent non-compliance with the undertakings.

What occurred "was a chain of misconduct which was compounded at each link" by Mr Munnelly's behavour, Mr Elliot said.

He was motivated by personal gain because, as he had told the disciplinary hearing, he had signed the documents with Mr Egan's name because he thought AIB would not accept undertakings from him as a borrower, Mr Elliot said.

All three undertakings appear to be the subject of ongoing litigation against the firm and against Mr Munnelly, he said.

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