Solicitor struck off for taking €173,543 from dead woman’s estate

Imelda Leahy deemed ‘not a fit and proper person to be a solicitor’

A solicitor has been struck off over findings of professional misconduct including taking some €173,543 from a deceased woman’s estate when she was not entitled to do so.

The president of the High Court, Mr Justice Peter Kelly said, given the level of "miscreancy" involved, Imelda Leahy was "not a fit and proper person to be a solicitor".

He was very concerned that Ms Leahy had provided the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) with forged authorisations and forged opinion of a barrister purportedly authorising some of the disputed payments to her, he said.

He has directed that documents in the case should be provided to the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation for its consideration.


In light of such misbehaviour, a strike off order was the only means of ensuring trust in the solicitors profession can be maintained, the judge said in a ruling on Monday.

Had a “more robust” approach been taken when earlier findings of misconduct were made by the SDT against Ms Leahy in 2011, she might not have been able to carry out the later activities which lead to this strike off application, he added.

Nessa Bird BL, for the Law Society, sought the strike-off orders arising from findings last February of the SDT concerning Ms Leahy, formerly practising as Imelda Leahy & Company Solicitors, Bagenalstown, Co Carlow.

A solicitor on behalf of Ms Leahy argued no “specific” findings of dishonesty were made against her and she had not personally benefitted from the matters alleged.

Ms Leahy had said deductions of €130,000 from the deceased woman’s estate were a bona fide “mistake”, he said. She is not a dishonest person and the court should also take into account her circumstances as a lone parent with a €300,000 mortgage whose only source of income is her practice as a solicitor, he also said. She is in poor health and her mother had recently died, he added.

Ms Bird said it was the Society’s case dishonesty had been proven arising from the SDT findings and report.

The SDT had found that Ms Leahy had, between September 2013 and October 2014, transferred costs totalling some €130,000 on 25 separate occasions from the estate of a deceased woman.

While Ms Leahy exhibited an opinion from a senior counsel which purportedly authorised her to take those fees, that senior counsel told the SDT he never provided any such opinion, she said. The document was “a forgery to mask what had gone on”.

Counsel said Ms Leahy also took two payments of €15,000 each plus travel expenses of €1,300, from the same estate, and those payments were not recorded in the office ledger account for that client.

The Succession Act provides, because Ms Leahy was executrix of the estate and had witnessed the will, any bequest or estate interest was null and void.

The SDT also found a €10,000 bequest from the estate to priests in Bagenalstown was also not paid in a timely manner.

Ms Leahy was solicitor for a number of clients in flooding cases and the SDT found she had not told them of the full settlement amounts in their cases, and appeared to have allowed a shortfall of some €36,000 in client funds due to third parties because she transferred excessive costs in those, counsel outlined.

The SDT also found Ms Leahy had taken costs of some €47,150 before VAT from another estate without instructions or authority from the client. There were also findings of “multiple” breaches of the Solicitors Account Regulations.

Ms Leahy was previously found guilty in 2011 by the SDT of misconduct in her practice, the court heard. The SDT found that she, in order to draw down a €5.8 million sum from a bank, had confirmed to its solicitor in December 2007 she had received a full 10 per cent deposit of €500,000 in relation to ten sales when she had not.

Arising from that, the former president of the High Court approved the SDT’s recommendation permitting her continue practice as an assistant solicitor employed by a Society approved solicitor. That order was varied in 2012 to allow her practice under the supervision of another solicitor.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times