February has been a difficult month so far for Leslie Buckley, the former chairman of Independent News & Media (INM). First, the Data Protection Commission (DPC) found that a secret trawl in 2014 of journalists' emails, which happened under Buckley's oversight, broke data privacy laws.
It got no better when, on Monday, a judge threw out an application by Buckley to forcibly recuse two High Court inspectors who are investigating a range of corporate governance allegations at INM, including the 2014 data trawl.
In a separate judgment this week, the High Court also awarded costs against Buckley over his attempts to stop a group of individuals, represented by and including solicitor Simon McAleese, from using State-gathered evidence against Buckley in privacy cases against him. McAleese and his clients are among the so-called INM 19 cohort whose private data was breached by the email search.
When the DPC's findings became known on February 5th, Buckley tried to argue the data watchdog had made no findings against him personally. But that was hardly the point – the DPC had no powers to make a finding against him personally. It could only make findings against INM, which he ran as executive chairman for a period in 2014 and which found itself under State investigation as a result of allegations made against Buckley by INM's former chief executive Robert Pitt.
But whereas the DPC’s findings of illegality may hurt Buckley’s image, the court judgments on Monday will also hurt his pocket. The bill for the failed recusal application alone could come to €500,000 and, as it stands, Buckley is on the hook for all of it, unless he lodges and wins an appeal on costs.
The separate award made against him for costs in the case of McAleese and his fellow INM 19 clients, although smaller financially, has a sharp sting in the tail. Buckley’s case all along has been that he ordered the illegal data trawl to get financial details of a legal contract held with INM by McAleese. He claimed he was trying to cut legal costs.
Yet Monday’s judgment means that he has been ordered by a High Court judge to, quite literally, write a cheque to McAleese for legal costs arising out of the same data trawl. The Cork businessman may recognise the irony, but he is unlikely to appreciate it.
Buckley has been fighting myriad legal battles over the allegations at INM for more than three years, and there is no sign of them ending anytime soon. He is being sued by INM over his alleged conduct while chairman, and that case has yet to get off first base. He is also being personally sued by most of the INM 19.
And although they were appointed almost 30 months ago, the High Court inspectors haven’t even made any findings yet, so there is always the chance that Buckley might have something to say about them if they do.
The INM story still has a long way to go for Buckley.