Lawyers wrangle over jury instructions as Seán Dunne trial nears verdict
Case centres on allegations Dunne transferred assets beyond creditors’ reach
Seán Dunne leaving the US Federal Court House on May 22nd after giving testimony in his civil trial. Photograph: Douglas Healey
Lawyers in Seán Dunne and Gayle Killilea’s American civil trial spent Tuesday wrangling over instructions the judge will read to the jury following the conclusion of testimony in the case.
US district court Judge Jeffrey B Meyer reviewed the instructions with the attorneys, giving them the opportunity to object and make suggestions. Issues ranged from the applicability of Irish law to the intricacies of trust statutes to the legal role of “love and affection” in wealth transfers.
Significant discussion centred on the complex financial and ownership framework surrounding Walford, the Dublin home that Mr Dunne says he bought for Ms Killilea for €58 million. The plaintiffs have sought to prove that Mr Dunne owned the home and later transferred it to her in an effort to shield the asset from creditors as his property businesses collapsed.
In the context of Walford, Peter Nolin, Ms Killilea’s lawyer, took issue with a reference in the instructions to sham trusts. Mr Dunne has testified that the house always belonged to Ms Killilea through a 2005 handwritten trust document witnessed by his son and not provided to his lawyers for many years.
“There is not a scrap of paper in this case that the trust is a sham,” Mr Nolin said.
But Judge Meyer indicated he was inclined to keep the reference in his instructions, noting that the jury, in assessing the trust document, should be able to consider that it was handwritten and not immediately given to a lawyer.
An expert witness called by the defence testified that the law recognises handwritten trust documents.
The trial, now in its fourth week, centres on allegations by the trustee of Mr Dunne’s American bankruptcy that he transferred tens of millions of dollars of assets to Ms Killilea to protect them from creditors.
Mr Dunne and Ms Killilea deny the allegations, saying he agreed to give her a large portion of his wealth per a handwritten, unwitnessed agreement the couple drew up during a 2005 holiday, long before Mr Dunne’s property empire began unravelling.
Final arguments are expected to begin on Wednesday.