Judgment reserved on fees dispute between Monica Leech and former lawyers

Fees concerns defamation case over articles published in the Evening Herald 15 years ago

Monica Leech had represented herself in proceedings before a High Court Taxing Master concerning the fees and costs claimed by MCF under its seven year retainer.  File photograph: Garrett White / Collins

Monica Leech had represented herself in proceedings before a High Court Taxing Master concerning the fees and costs claimed by MCF under its seven year retainer. File photograph: Garrett White / Collins

 

Former public relations consultant Monica Leech has clashed at the High Court with her former solicitors over what fees are due to them for representing her in a defamation case over articles published in the Evening Herald 15 years ago.

A High Court jury had, after a seven day trial in 2009, awarded Ms Leech €1.87m damages plus costs over the articles but, in 2015, the Supreme Court reduced the award on appeal to €1.25m, plus costs.

Ms Leech had instructed solicitors McCann Fitzgerald (MCF) in late 2004 to represent her in defamation proceedings over the Evening Herald articles. She also instructed it in defamation actions against other titles in the Independent Newspapers Group.

She terminated the MCF retainer in August 2011 and later instructed a Co Waterford firm, Kenny Stephenson Chapman.

Issues concerning exactly what costs are to be paid to Ms Leech by Independent Newspapers arising from the €1.25m award were parked pending the outcome of the taxation of the solicitor/client costs.

Ms Leech had represented herself in proceedings before a High Court Taxing Master concerning the fees and costs claimed by MCF under its seven year retainer.

Represented by William Fitzgerald, instructed by Kenny Stephenson Chapman, she applied this week to the High Court for a review of the Taxing Master’s dismissal of her objections to his rulings.

MCF, represented by Alan Keating BL, opposed the proceedings.

In her action, Ms Leech maintains a solicitors instructing fee for MCF should be some €154,584 and the Taxing Master had erred in how he arrived at a higher figure which she says exceeded €173,000.

MCF maintains the Taxing Master had allowed €165,000 for its fee and his decision should be upheld.

Ms Leech has not disputed the work claimed for was done but she claims the sum quantified, taking into account a 30 per cent discount applied by MCF on the original fees sought, and other reductions which she says are appropriate, should have been about €154,584.

MCF argued the taxation system is underpinned by “fairness and reasonableness” which applies in a mutual way between solicitors and their clients.

It was submitted the Taxing Master decision had to be seen beyond an evaluation of “reckonable time” spent on work and that he had taken other factors into account in reaching a €165,000 figure for all allowable work.

Ms Leech has also claimed the instructions fee was five times more that what was originally estimated and alleged it contained a “success” fee imposed on her without her consent.

MCF rejected that claim and also disputed additional claims, including concerning costs of a mediation.

Ms Leech claimed there was an agreement the costs of a mediation with Independent Newspapers would be limited to €10,000 but they amounted to some €23,000. MCF says there was no such agreement.

After the two day hearing concluded before Mr Justice Anthony Barr on Wednesday, he reserved his decision.