Solicitor seeks review of Taxing Master’s finding of overcharging

Wicklow-based Joseph Buckley found to have overcharged client by more than €650,000

 Solicitor Joseph Buckley outside  the Four Courts  during a High Court action. Photograph: Collins Courts

Solicitor Joseph Buckley outside the Four Courts during a High Court action. Photograph: Collins Courts

 

Mary Carolan

A solicitor found to have engaged in “blatant “overcharging of a former client by more than €650,000 is seeking a High Court review of those findings.

Wicklow-based solicitor Joseph Buckley objects to certain findings by the High Court Taxing Master Declan O’Neill concerning fees charged to publican Denis Doyle, a client of his over 10 years from 1998.

The Taxing Master found Mr Buckley, on a number of occasions, billed the maximum four hours court attendance for adjournments on consent when correspondence indicated he had not attended at court.

It was also found the solicitor billed for work already covered by costs recovered against Wicklow County Council.

Mr Buckley in some cases charged five times the normal conveyancing rate for no reason and billed thousands of euro for a senior counsel who had written saying the only fees due to him were €1,500, plus VAT, the Taxing Master also found.

Mr Buckley, representing himself, contends fees were agreed by the client. He also says costs paid by the council were received after he provided bills of costs and were later reimbursed to Mr Doyle.

Protracted negotiations

Outlining his case on Wednesday, Mr Buckley said he was involved in long and protracted negotiations and litigation over years on behalf of Mr Doyle.

The Taxing Master was required to assess the work done but could not do so fully because relevant files had been shredded, he said.

The rules governing taxation provide all costs shall be allowed, except those “unreasonably incurred”, he said. For “aeons of time”, it has been accepted, if there is evidence in writing, the costs must be presumed to be reasonable in amount and reasonably incurred.

A client’s signature attached to payment of that bill constituted, along with the bill, an agreement in writing and raised the “concludable presumption” the costs shall be allowed.

During his presentation, Mr Justice Donald Binchy told the solicitor the court was finding several matters “impossible” to follow, including exactly what deductions were being objected to.

Mr Buckley said he was hampered by factors including the absence of files and was also unable to make sense of various documents obtained from the Taxing Master’s office.

Complex

Paul Anthony McDermott SC, for Mr Doyle, complained certain matters could not be explained because Mr Buckley would not open to the court the Taxing Master’s January 2017 determination, the matter under appeal.

Mr Buckley asked that counsel resume his seat and said he would address the judge’s queries.

In concluding arguments, he said while the costs issues were complex, his relationship with Mr Doyle had not been and the court should take that into account.

The case arises from the 74-page determination of the Taxing Master dismissing several objections by Mr Buckley to taxation of certain bills of costs concerning Mr Doyle.

The Taxing Master has stood over his determination but is not actively involved in the case.

Mr Doyle, represented by Mr McDermott, with Francis Kieran BL, opposes any review and says Mr Buckley is raising points similar to ones rejected in earlier proceedings. Mr Buckley should not be permitted a review when he had consented to taxation and produced no expert evidence either before the Taxing Master or the court, it is submitted.

Taxation of some Mr Buckley’s bills of costs was ordered by the High Court after Mr Doyle initiated proceedings against Mr Buckley in 2011. In that case, Mr Doyle alleged he was unable to get Mr Buckley to account for a sum of some €600,000 allegedly held by the solicitor in a client account for benefit of Mr Doyle.

He claims he was later told by the solicitor the vast bulk of those monies were used to discharge fees owed by Mr Doyle and his siblings.

Mr Doyle is claiming damages including for breach of contract and also wants accounts and enquiries. He has claimed he made substantial payments to Mr Buckley between 1998 and 2011 but did not really pay these fees and they were rather deducted without his consent.

Mr Buckley contends all fees were agreed. While some fees for conveyancing transactions may have exceeded the professionally recommended level, these were specifically sanctioned by Mr Doyle as client, he claims.

Mr Doyle’s case is on hold pending the solicitor’s application for review of the Taxing Master’s findings. That application continues on Thursday.