Solicitor struck off for forging signature

Tue, Jul 31, 2012, 01:00

A SOLICITOR who used a colleague’s signature when signing undertakings related to bank loans on property has been struck off by the High Court for professional misconduct.

Patrick J Munnelly, formerly of Fair and Murtagh solicitors, Northgate Street, Athlone, Co Westmeath, was found guilty by a disciplinary tribunal of wrongfully signing the signature of his former partner, Martin Egan, on documents related to three properties in Athlone in which Mr Munnelly had an interest or owned.

In doing so, Mr Munnelly undertook as a solicitor that AIB would gain good marketable title and first legal charge over the properties on which loans were taken out.

Mr Munnelly, who resigned from the practice in May 2009, said he should have informed Mr Egan about what he did. His failure to do so was an oversight and not a deliberate attempt to mislead the bank or to conceal the undertakings from other partners in the firm, he said.

He also said he did not accept the bank had relied solely on his undertakings. The bank had been given several other items of security, which would have covered the borrowings, he said.

Gabriel Gavigan SC, for Mr Munnelly, urged the president of the High Court, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, not to strike off his client. All the properties involved related to Mr Munnelly and no member of the public was at a loss, counsel said. The undertaking in relation to one of the three properties had already been dealt with and he was confident matters related to the other two could be resolved, counsel added.

Mr Munnelly was still a young man and should be allowed to continue practising under the supervision of another solicitor, counsel said. He had done “something stupid” while under pressure and had forgotten to tell his partner about it, he added.

Paul Anthony McDermott, for the Law Society, said this was not a once-off matter but involved three documents on which the signature was forged.

A disciplinary tribunal had recommended Mr Munnelly be allowed to continue practising with a limited certificate because he had a clean record up until this, but the Law Society recommended a striking-off in light of the fact that there were a number of stages where he could have owned up but did not, Mr McDermott added.

Mr Justice Kearns said the court had no option but to strike him off.

Among the conclusions reached by Jim Ryan, a chartered accountant with the Law Society, following an investigation in 2009, were that Mr Munnelly had wrongfully represented that AIB would gain good marketable title and first legal charge/mortgage to the properties. These were a one-acre site at Meadowbook Park, a commercial site at Blyry Industrial Estate and a house at Northgate Street, all in Athlone.

In an affidavit from John Elliot, the Law Society’s registrar of solicitors, he said there were 18 findings of misconduct against Mr Munnelly, including three of receiving money from AIB knowing the bank was relying on his undertakings.