Solicitor found guilty of professional misconduct loses appeal

Michael O’Sullivan challenges findings of Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal

 

A solicitor who was ordered to only continue practicing under supervision after being found guilty of professional misconduct has lost an appeal against the decision.

In 2016, Michael O’Sullivan, formerly principal of Michael O’Sullivan & Co Solicitors, Baggot Hall, Lower Baggot Street, Dublin, lost a High Court challenge to findings that he only work as an assistant to another solicitor, pay €10,000 to the Law Society’s compensation fund and pay €6,774 restitution to a former client.

It arose out of a Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal finding that he retained some €44,000 from a €100,000 court settlement without agreement of the former client even though those costs would also be recovered from the defendants in the case. Mr O’Sullivan later paid the money to the former client.

The High Court judge, rejecting his challenge to the tribunal’s findings, said Mr O’Sullivan “clearly needs supervision”.

He appealed.

On Friday, the Court of Appeal dismissed all grounds of his appeal including his claim that his constitutional and European Convention rights were breached.

Mr Justice Michael Peart, on behalf of the three-judge appeal court, said the High Court was correct to refuse to adjourn the main disciplinary matter until the constitutional and European Convention matters were first dealt with. This was entirely consistent with previous case law, he said.

He also dismissed Mr O’Sullivan’s ground that fair procedures had been breached by the refusal of the High Court judge to accept, without oral evidence, the tribunal’s findings of misconduct against him.

Mr O’Sullivan’s argument that it was incumbent on the High Court to make its own findings of misconduct, rather than just accepting the tribunal findings, was fundamentally flawed.

Mr Justice Peart said he had failed to avail of his entitlement to appeal the tribunal’s finding and that made them conclusive and final.

Mr O’Sullivan had also claimed it would be impossible for him to gain employment - as an assistant solicitor - and the sanction therefore was career-ending and disproportionate.

The appeal court found the question of what sanction to impose was a matter for the High Court judge’s discretion and it was satisfied there was no error of manifest injustice in its decision.