Concerns over €81,000 given to Ballaghaderreen solicitor
Action over money paid to Roscommon solicitor is separate to case before High Court
Declan O’Callaghan. Mr O’Callaghan’s wife, Mary Devine-O’Callaghan, was also replaced by the High Court as office manager in the law firm, Kilrane O’Callaghan & Company. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
The Law Society of Ireland has been asked to investigate whether some €81,000 paid to Ballaghaderreen solicitor Declan O’Callaghan, to be held on behalf of a client, has been taken incorrectly from the firm’s client account.
The money is separate to several other cases central to the society’s High Court action against Mr O’Callaghan. That action has resulted in Mr O’Callaghan agreeing not to practice as a solicitor, nor hold himself out to be a solicitor, pending the outcome of a tribunal hearing the society’s case against him.
Mr O’Callaghan’s wife, Mary Devine-O’Callaghan, was also replaced by the High Court as office manager in the law firm, Kilrane O’Callaghan & Company, and no longer has authority to sign cheques on behalf of the company.
The additional case was raised with the society in a letter dated July 23rd that was sent by law firm Kevin P Kilrane & Co of Mohill, Co Leitrim, which is not connected to Kilrane O’Callaghan.
The letter expressed “very serious concerns” about the estate of a John Lavin and also “grave concerns . . . that there is currently a shortfall/deficit” in Kilrane O’Callaghan solicitors which should command “the society’s urgent attention”.
The society, which is both the representative and regulatory body for solicitors, replied on August 2nd saying it was “making inquiries of the solicitor concerned”.
According to legal correspondence connected to the case, Mr Lavin suffered chronic mental health issues and was a long-term inpatient of the mental health services in Co Roscommon. After his death, a will he made in December 1997 was challenged by two of the three beneficiaries of his estate.
However, a settlement was reached in the Circuit Court in June 2013 under which, essentially, all three accepted the will, as written. Under the terms of the will, Mr Lavin’s estate was to be liquidated and the proceeds divided equally between the three, after legal costs and fees had been deducted.
The estate was almost entirely comprised of land worth €140,000 (the value being determined by what it sold for at auction) and approximately €81,000 which was due to be reimbursed to the estate by the Health Service Executive.
It is believed the proceeds of the land sale are accounted for. However, The Irish Times understands that part of the settlement was that the €81,000 from the HSE would be paid to Mr O’Callaghan’s law firm and would be held by him on deposit, in trust and not taken until the matter of costs and fees had been settled.
That process has become bogged down in rows over fees and legal costs, and having the claimed costs assessed independently – either by the county registrar in Roscommon or by the Taxing Master of the High Court in Dublin.
According to a 118-page long itemised bill, the costs being claimed by Kilrane O’Callaghan amount to €81,846.64 – a figure that is almost exactly the same as the amount paid to the estate by the HSE and which solicitors acting for one of the three beneficiaries, Patrick McGarry, fear may now be missing.
While the society has acknowledged the letter expressing concern over the whereabouts of the €81,000 and promised to follow up, a spokeswoman said it could not comment on the case.
Last month, the High Court ordered Mr O’Callaghan, who did not contest the order, to pay €350,000 into his client account from his personal account. A law firm’s client account is the account in which money belonging to a client is held. The court also ordered Mr O’Callaghan to liquidate a life policy and pay the proceeds into his client account.
Over several hearings, the court was told that Mr O’Callaghan had charged fees and costs amounting to €344,000 on a €454,000 estate bequeathed to a child. In another instance, he charged €101,000 on an estate of €396,100 of whom the beneficiaries were a widow and three young children.
Mr O’Callaghan’s case is back before the High Court on October 8th. A request to the firm for comment went unanswered.