Former judge Heather Perrin found guilty of misconduct

Accounts were ‘a work of fiction and a complete misrepresentation’ , tribunal told

Former District Court Judge Heather Perrin, arriving at the Criminal Courts of Justice in February last year. Also in the photograph is Cahir O’Higgins, solicitor(Left) and the judge’s husband Albert Perrin Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Former District Court Judge Heather Perrin, arriving at the Criminal Courts of Justice in February last year. Also in the photograph is Cahir O’Higgins, solicitor(Left) and the judge’s husband Albert Perrin Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Thu, Oct 17, 2013, 18:58

Disgraced former judge Heather Perrin has been found guilty of 15 allegations of professional misconduct at a Solicitor’s Disciplinary Tribunal in Dublin.

The tribunal recommended she be struck off the solicitors’ roll.

The former District Court judge is currently serving a two-and-a-half-year sentence at the Dóchas Centre women’s prison after being convicted of deception in November 2012. She resigned her judicial appointment following conviction. The allegations against her at the tribunal were unrelated to the criminal case.

Paul Anthony McDermott BL, for the Law Society of Ireland, said 14 of the 15 allegations related to her “systematic failure to keep proper books of account”. He said it appeared at the end of the year, Ms Perrin (62) decided what she needed to run her office, and took fees out of the client account “in a general way”. She “recklessly disregarded” regulations governing how solicitors keep their accounts and attempted to cover it up. In doing so, she put clients’ money at risk, Mr McDermott said.

When she sold her practice in February 2009 after being appointed as a judge, she signed off on final accounts that were “a work of fiction and a complete misrepresentation” of the true position, he said.

He told the tribunal the Law Society had subsequently decided the accountant who signed off on her final accounts, Dermot J Keogh, of Terenure Dublin, was no longer being accepted as a reporting accountant for solicitors. He had failed to ask questions and uncover what Ms Perrin was doing, Mr McDermott said.

It was not until Ms Perrin sold her practise that the matters came to light.

Mr McDermott said the 15th allegation against Ms Perrin was that she “continued to provide legal services” after she had ceased practice and no longer had a practising certificate. She completed undertakings when she should have handed the work over to another solicitor.

“These weren’t plumbing services, these weren’t bakery services, they were legal services,” Mr McDermott said.

He said Ms Perrin did the work herself so that she would not have to pay another solicitor to do it. She was breaking regulations by doing so and had no indemnity insurance. If anything had gone wrong, there would have been no recourse for her clients.

Ms Perrin, who was not present at the tribunal hearing, was represented by solicitor Sean Sexton. He said his client accepted 14 out of the 15 allegations and agreed they amounted to professional misconduct. She did not accept that completing undertakings was “providing legal services”, Mr Sexton said. All she was doing was ensuring the work she’d begun was finalised.

Addressing the tribunal on sanction, he said Ms Perrin “had no intention whatsoever to ever seek a new practising certificate”. She would consent to having her name taken off the roll, but did not want to be struck off.

After retiring to consider the matter, chairman of the tribunal Edward Mc Ellin said it was the opinion of the three-man tribunal that Ms Perrin was not a fit person to be a member of the profession and should be struck from the roll. He also said Ms Perrin should pay €5,000 towards the Law Society’s costs in the case.

The matter will now be referred to the High Court.