Monday 19 August 2019

Will dispute case involving priest facing drugs charges in US set for October

Fr Michael O’Leary
Fr Michael O’Leary

Tim Healy

A High Court dispute involving a Catholic priest facing drug charges in the United States and his siblings over their late mother's will won't be heard until the new legal term commences in October.

The case involving Fr Michael O'Leary who along with his brother John O'Leary are being sued by their siblings Nora Harpur, Barry O'Leary, Tadgh O'Leary and Marie O'Leary aimed at setting aside the late Elizabeth O'Leary's came before Mr Justice Senan Allen on Monday.

His siblings' High Court action is aimed at setting aside the will of their mother who died in September 2014 on grounds of undue influence. The claims are denied and the action is fully contested.

In a pretrial motion, the judge dismissed the plaintiffs' application for the discovery of Fr O'Leary's bank records between 2006 and the end of 2010.

Seeking the discovery Barney Quirke SC for the plaintiffs said his clients were seeking the discovery of information they believe is "highly relevant" to their claim.

Counsel said his clients were concerned about transactions involving their mother's accounts in 2009.

There were two transactions in 2009 of approximately €5,000 each out of Mrs O'Leary's bank account which his clients believed were "suspicious," counsel said. 

Counsel said that following one of those transactions, one of the plaintiff's was contacted by staff at AIB, where the account was held.

The bank official said that their mother seemed to be unaware that money had been moved out of her account.

Counsel said it is their case that if monies went to either Fr O'Leary's account or a joint account held in Mrs O'Leary and Fr O'Leary's names it would "show a pattern of undue influence."

The additional discovery counsel said was sought arising out of the events that occurred in respect of Fr O'Leary in the US. Counsel said that while the application had been made quite late his clients are anxious that the matter is heard as soon as possible. 

Opposing the application Helen O'Sullivan Bl for Fr O'Leary said that discovery in the case had closed in January 2018, and what was now being sought was broad and wide.

Giving the court's decision Mr Justice Allen said he did not agree with the plaintiffs that the discovery application was not "a fishing expedition."

"It seems to me that it is," the Judge said, adding that he was not prepared to make an order for discovery against Fr O'Leary in respect of his bank accounts.

The Judge noted that there had been a prior agreement in respect of a request for the discovery of bank statements concerning a joint account held by Fr. Michael O'Leary and his mother.

The court gave Fr O'Leary six weeks to comply with that agreed discovery and adjourned the case, which is now unlikely to be heard until October at the earliest.

The case came before the Court in June when Fr O'Leary's lawyers secured an adjournment because of difficulties concerning his availability to attend court following his arrest on March 17th last in New York.

He has since gone into a rehabilitation programme, and intends to give evidence in the will dispute. The action was due to be heard earlier this year but could not proceed due to the lack of a judge to hear the case.

Previously the court heard that Fr O'Leary (aged 50) was arrested by New York Police after it is claimed they recovered half an ounce of methamphetamine, two scales and other materials used for packaging narcotics in a vehicle he and another man were in.

Fr O'Leary now faces charges before a New York Court, including criminal possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell, two counts of criminal use of drug paraphernalia and the criminal possession of a controlled substance.

In their action, Fr O'Leary's four plaintiffs seek an order condemning a will Mrs O'Leary of Morehampton Road, Donnybrook, Dublin 4 made in 2009 on grounds including that she was not of sound mind when it was executed.

It is claimed the family home was left to the defendants, while the residue of the estate was left to the other siblings.

It is also alleged that undue influence was exerted over the late Mrs O'Leary by the defendants when she was preparing and executing the 2009 will. 

The claims are denied.

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