Disciplinary tribunal recommends Dublin solicitor be struck off
Hearing told of failure to pay sums totalling some €35,000 to five complainants and accounting failures
Dublin solicitor Greg O’Neill who was found guilty of several counts of professional misconduct. Photograph: Dave Meehan
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal has recommended that Dublin solicitor Greg O’Neill be struck off the roll of solicitors after finding him guilty of several counts of professional misconduct arising from his handling of a number of cases; failure to pay sums totalling some €35,000 to five complainants; and accounting failures at his practice.
While the tribunal took on board the good work “of a public service nature” carried on over years by Mr O’Neill, it considered him unfit to be a solicitor, given the findings of professional misconduct and the effect of that misconduct on those involved, said Justin Condon, chairman of the three- member tribunal.
The complaints relate to matters from late 2009 into 2011. Mr O’Neill’s practice under the title Gregory F O’Neill at Capel Building, Dublin, closed in March 2011, having opened in 2004.
One client, Susan Gray, told the tribunal her devastation at the death of her husband was exacerbated by the failure of Mr O’Neill to represent her family at her husband’s inquest after she instructed him to do so.
She was also upset by his failure to respond to correspondence and calls from her or to apologise to her and pay €3,000 compensation as directed by a Law Society committee. “He did me a massive wrong and he needs to own up to that.”
The solicitor has also failed to pay another client, Irene Comiskey, some €15,250 as directed by a Law Society committee after it ruled the appropriate fee for work done for her by him was about €14,000, and not the €30,000 charged.
Ms Comiskey said she had lost her home, was left “in limbo” by her solicitor at a very difficult and stressful time in her life, his conduct left her “tormented” and she had no option but to dismiss him.
While she had since been compensated by the Law Society’s Compensation Fund, that too cost her money to secure and she did not consider the €15,250 paid was adequate “for the trauma and misery I was put through”.
The tribunal heard Mr O’Neill failed to pay back all of an €85,000 sum paid by an insurance company to him to meet a personal injuries award to another client, Josephine Murphy. Mr O’Neill, whose fees for the case were separately paid, has paid €69,000 of the €85,000 sum and the Law Society’s compensation fund has since paid the amount outstanding. From the society’s payment, Ms Murphy has paid €1,000 which was owed by Mr O’Neill to another complainant, accountant John Handibode, for a report for the personal injury case.
Mr O’Neill also failed to abide by a direction to pay some €1,235 to another complainant, William A Hurrell.
Nessa Bird, for the society, said the tribunal should recommend a striking-off order because these and other failures of Mr O’Neill undermined public confidence in the solicitors profession and brought it into disrepute.
€500,000 in debts
The tribunal was told that Mr O’Neill had estimated debts of some €500,000, suffered from depression and that he was on disability benefit and could not pay the sums due.
He had not been a good office manager and had Revenue liabilities and other problems in his practice over years, his counsel Cormac Ó Dulacháin said.
Mr Ó Dulacháin said Mr O’Neill had not “gambled on the stock exchange or acquired property” and had not benefitted financially from much of the public law work he took up, including his work representing the families affected by the Stardust fire disaster and the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings.
The findings of misconduct relate to the failure to repay the monies at issue, failures to reply to correspondence and calls from the complainants and the Law Society and failures to file accountant’s reports on his practice for the years ended 2009 and 2010.
The tribunal’s report and recommendations will now go to the High Court which will decide whether to grant the striking-off order.
Mr O’Neill had not disputed the facts of the complaints but denied they amounted to professional misconduct.
* This article was amended on September 20th, 2013, to correct an error.