Tribunal recommends Dublin solicitor be struck off

Gregory F O’Neill found guilty on several counts of professional misconduct and failure to pay sums totalling some €35,000 to five complainants

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard evidence from  five complainants about the effect of solicitor Gregory F
.
 O’Neill’s failure to pay  various sums due to them or to respond to letters, emails and phone calls from them. Photograph: Stephen Hird/Reuters

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard evidence from five complainants about the effect of solicitor Gregory F . O’Neill’s failure to pay various sums due to them or to respond to letters, emails and phone calls from them. Photograph: Stephen Hird/Reuters

Thu, Sep 19, 2013, 16:50

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal has recommended well-known 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 and failure to pay sums totalling some €35,000 to five complainants.

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, chairman of the three member tribunal Justin Condon said.

The complaints relate to matters from late 2009 to 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.

The tribunal also heard Mr O’Neill has failed to repay some €15,700 outstanding to another client, Josephine Murphy, from a personal injuries award of some €85,000 for her, paid in full by the insurer to Mr O’Neill.

The Society’s Compensation fund has paid the outstanding sums due to some of the complainants. In all, sums of about €35,000 were due from him relating to the five complainants.

Nessa Bird, for the Society, said the Tribunal should recommend a striking off order because the actions of Mr O’Neill undermined public confidence in the solicitor profession.

The tribunal was told Mr O’Neill has estimated debts of some €500,000, is on disability benefit and cannot pay the sums due. He had revenue liabilities and other problems in his practice over years, his counsel Cormac O Dulachain said.

Counsel 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 representing the families affected by the Stardust fire disaster and the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings.

A consultant psychiatrist said Mr O’Neill had suffered from severe depression for which he was treated from 2009 and symptoms of his illness included procrastination and forgetfulness. While his condition had improved, high-stress would threaten that improvement, he added.

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 accountants’ reports on his practice for the years ended 2009 and 2010.

The tribunal also heard, arising from failures to file accounts, the High Court in 1993 ordered Mr O’Neill could only practise as an assistant solicitor under supervision. That restriction remained in place until 2000.

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.