Judge directs holding of inquiry into allegations against solicitor

Court says woman made prima facie case for inquiry into allegations

Mr Justice Richard Humphreys  held there was a prima facie case for an inquiry into some complaints, but stressed the court was only dealing with whether there is a prima facie case, not with the ultimate correctness or otherwise of the complaints

Mr Justice Richard Humphreys held there was a prima facie case for an inquiry into some complaints, but stressed the court was only dealing with whether there is a prima facie case, not with the ultimate correctness or otherwise of the complaints

 

A High Court judge has directed the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal to hold an inquiry into certain allegations made by a woman against a solicitor.

Deirdre O’Flynn has made out a prima facie case for an inquiry into allegations including that the solicitor, personally and as principal of his firm, falsely witnessed her signature on documents, Mr Justice Richard Humphreys held.

The solicitor, who cannot be identified by court order, denies the claims.

Ms O’Flynn, of Ballyclough, Mallow, Co Cork, who represented herself and whom the judge noted did not want her name redacted, appealed to the High Court after the tribunal decided in June 2020 she had made out no prima facie case for an inquiry into her complaints.

In a judgment on Monday Mr Justice Humphreys said Ms O’Flynn had persuaded him that the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal had made “serious and significant” errors warranting court intervention.

He held there was a prima facie case for an inquiry into some complaints, but stressed the court was only dealing with whether there is a prima facie case, not with the ultimate correctness or otherwise of the complaints.

Earlier he noted Ms O’Flynn and her former husband William had together established a company, BOD Investments Ltd, in September 1994. Her husband had 39,999 shares and she had one share.

The solicitor was instructed on behalf of the company in relation to most of its property transactions. The company was struck off the companies register twice and was restored to the register in March 2000 and in October 2005.

Ms O’Flynn had said she learned of the company’s significant indebtedness to the Revenue in December 2012. A liquidator was appointed in April 2014, and in March 2015 she was listed as a tax defaulter in national newspapers.

The judge said in fairness to Ms O’Flynn, it must be noted she had no knowledge of the Revenue indebtedness at the time that arose.

The High Court later refused an application by the company’s liquidator seeking to have her disqualified from acting as a company director.

Instructions

Ms O’Flynn complained to the Law Society about the solicitor in May and June 2019, and also complained to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal in June 2019.

In response the solicitor raised various preliminary issues, including arguing he had not acted for her and took his instructions from Mr O’Flynn, the company’s managing director.

The judge said the solicitor denied any involvement in forgeries but had said it “may have been the case” that in certain instances documents were signed by Mr O’Flynn in the presence of staff of the solicitor’s firm and then given to Mr O’Flynn to permit his co-director to sign the necessary documents.

The judge said that implies Ms O’Flynn’s signatures were indeed purportedly witnessed by the solicitor or other members of the firm of which he was a principal despite Ms O’Flynn not actually being there.

“That is pretty much an implied admission of serious wrongdoing, and it is very hard to see how there is not a serious prima facie case against the respondent solicitor under those circumstances”, the judge said.

He said Ms O’Flynn’s reply to that was “as simple as it is devastating; he either witnessed the signing of the documents by me in his presence or he did not”.

She also alleged the solicitor had sworn a “memorial” to the effect he had witnessed her signature.

Two categories

On foot of the evidence and submissions, the judge ordered the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal to inquire into two categories of allegations – (1) that the solicitor, personally and as principal of his firm, falsely witnessed Ms O’Flynn’s signature and falsely swore to have done so, and related matters as alleged in her complaint; and (2) provided false or misleading information to a new solicitor instructed by Ms O’Flynn in allegedly essentially saying he had advised her and her husband of certain matters when he allegedly had sent documents to her husband only.

He ruled Ms O’Flynn had not made out a prima facie case for an inquiry into other complaints made by her.