A Cork-based solicitor has been found guilty of professional misconduct for falsely claiming to have witnessed a client sign a number of documents connected to a company run by her husband, which had been forged.
John Moylan (68) of Richard Moylan & Co Solicitors, Mallow, Co Cork, admitted to signing legal and banking company documents as a witness, despite not seeing the woman, who was a company director, sign the papers.
The client, Deirdre O'Flynn, a retired teacher, had not been involved in the day to day running of the company, a property business she had owned with her now ex-husband.
A forensic handwriting examiner hired by the woman determined her signature had been forged on 22 occasions, across 18 documents, which related to property purchases by the company, as well as banking and loan documents, over a 14-year period from the 1990s onwards.
On Wednesday, a Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal found Mr Moylan guilty of professional misconduct for falsely claiming to have witnessed the signatures.
Stephen Maher, chair of the tribunal’s three-person panel, said the solicitor had “left open the risk of forgery materialising” by failing to correctly witness the documents being signed in person.
Giving evidence to the tribunal, Mr Moylan said he had been “entirely unaware” documents with Ms O’Flynn’s purported signature had not been signed by her.
The solicitor said the woman’s husband would collect documentation related to their company from his office, and bring it home to be signed by Ms O’Flynn. He assumed she had signed the documents “at the kitchen table”, at which point the husband returned them to the solicitor’s office.
Some of the documents related to bank loans with personal guarantees in the couple’s name. In one document the woman’s name was misspelled, and in another her date of birth was wrong, she told the tribunal.
The company sold several properties in the late 2000s, but ran into financial difficulty around 2012 and later became insolvent, due to unpaid tax debts.
The solicitor told the tribunal he made an “innocent error” and at the time had “no reason” to doubt documents presented to him with the woman’s signature had not been signed by her.
Barrister Patrick McCullough, representing Mr Moylan, asked the tribunal to take into account the negative publicity from its findings as a "very significant" penalty in itself when considering any sanction.
His client had not benefited from the matter and had “honestly believed” the documents brought to his office had been signed by Ms O’Flynn, he said.
Mr Moylan had made a number of “forthright” admissions when giving evidence and wished to apologise to Ms O’Flynn in light of the findings, he said.
Mr McCullough previously told the tribunal his client had a “long standing” professional relationship with the complainant’s ex-husband, who he said it appeared had “abused the trust” of the solicitor, as well as Ms O’Flynn.
Barrister Tadhg Dorgan, representing Ms O'Flynn, said it had taken eight years for his client to have her name vindicated following the fallout of the company's insolvency, during which time she had been under significant stress.
Mr Dorgan said his client was not seeking “an eye for an eye” and did not wish there to be any impediment to Mr Moylan’s continued employment.
Ms O’Flynn “came to clear her name and that job has been done,” he said.
The tribunal censured Mr Moylan and ordered him to pay €15,000 towards Ms O’Flynn’s legal costs, and a further €15,000 to the Law Society Compensation Fund.