Judge sorry for 'casual' chat that led to storm over ruling
CIRCUIT Court Judge Des Hogan has apologised for having a "casual conversation" with a senior judge about a ruling in a family law case.
But the judge denied he was solicited or requested by a politician or any other party to intervene in the case and has rejected suggestions he "tried to meddle in a family case".
The judge was the subject of a joint investigation by High Court President Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns and Circuit Court President Ray Groarke.
A statement issued by the judges, meanwhile, exonerated former Fianna Fail TD Mary O'Rourke who had been forced to deny that she made representations on the mother's behalf.
According to the report in a Sunday newspaper that prompted the investigation, High Court judge Mr Justice Henry Abbott's ruling in the family law case mentioned how he was queried about aspects of the case by an unnamed circuit court judge. He said this judge had "improperly" made the approach following a representation from a former TD.
Judge Hogan did not dispute that he made a query about the ruling in the course of a casual conversation with Judge Abbott, who is the High Court's dedicated family law judge.
But the Circuit Court judge, who has a home in Athlone, categorically denied that he was solicited by a politician or any other party involved in or connected with the case in any way.
"There had been absolutely no intention of interfering with the case or influencing its outcome in any way and he (Judge Hogan) deeply regrets that his query may have given rise to any such apprehension," said Judges Kearns and Groarke in their statement.
According to the judicial inquiry, Judge Hogan met Judge Abbott in the yard of the Four Courts building on July 21, 2010, days after Judge Abbott delivered his ruling in the family law case.
In a "casual conversation", lasting less than a minute, Judge Hogan said he asked Judge Abbott was it true that he had made a particular order in the case. Judge Abbott took exception to the question, according to the statement released on the judges' behalf by the Courts Service.
Judge Abbott told Judge Kearns that he dealt with the query by saying that the reasons for his decision would be detailed in a written judgment in due course.
The making of the inquiry to Judge Abbott was the subject of certain questions put to one of the parties during a later hearing on February 15, 2013.
And the matter was referred to by Judge Abbott in a ruling on July 12, 2013, which has not yet been published.
Judges Kearns and Groarke said that any allegation of this nature was of "grave concern to the judiciary generally and, in this instance, of particular concern to the judges of the Circuit Court".
The judges said that the raising of the matter by Judge Hogan should not have occurred – but could not have influenced Judge Abbott in his ruling of July, 21, 2010 as it was made in the aftermath of that ruling.
"We are also satisfied, as indeed verified by Judge Abbott, that the conversation of July, 2010 (which was one lasting less than one minute) had no effect when three years later he delivered a further ruling on 12 July, 2013," they said.
Ms O'Rourke, who was not named in the 'Sunday Times' story, confirmed to the Irish Independent that she was approached by the mother in the case, but categorically denied being a go-between or making any representations to a Circuit Court judge in regard to the case.
Ms O'Rourke said that she was "very aware" of the separation of powers and "absolutely" did not act as a go-between in this case.
"In my whole life, and I'm so many long numbers of years in public life, I never ever made a representation to a judge about anything," she said.