Solicitor to be struck off over professional misconduct

High Court hears Maurice O’Sullivan failed to honour a number of undertakings

Mr Justice Peter Kelly said the court would be failing in its obligations to the solicitors profession and the public if the strike off order was not made. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien.

Mr Justice Peter Kelly said the court would be failing in its obligations to the solicitors profession and the public if the strike off order was not made. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien.

 

A solicitor who was found guilty of professional misconduct is to be struck off the roll of solicitors at the end of this year, the president of the High Court has ordered.

Among the findings against Maurice O’Sullivan - previously practising as Maurice O’Sullivan & Co Solicitors, Colbert Street, Listowel, Co Kerry - were that he had failed over some years to register properties of a number of clients, including a woman suffering from cancer, causing upset and distress.

The woman had instructed the solicitor in 1999/2000 to register her entitlement to a certain property but the title was not registered until 2018, the court heard.

It took three years for an elderly man’s title to be registered in 2018 and Mr O’Sullivan’s delay in not returning the man’s birth certificate also caused upset as the man wanted to organise his funeral, the court heard.

Mr O’Sullivan had failed to honour a number of undertakings provided by him to various financial institutions on dates going back to 1997 and, despite the best efforts of another law firm, some 22 undertakings remain outstanding, Mary Fenelon, a solicitor with the Regulatory Legal Services section of the Law Society said.

The failures led to findings of misconduct being made by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) on dates in 2018 arising from admissions by the solicitor concerning 10 complaints against him.

The SDT later recommended he be struck off and Ms Fenelon applied on Monday for strike off orders.

She said some of these matters had been going on for years and the SDT was told the solicitor had a period of illness which may have contributed. When the SDT “looked carefully” at the dates, it was of the view the illness did not coincide with the vast amount of the undertakings at the time they were furnished or the problems created concerning the client matters.

Ms Fenelon did not oppose an application by Siobhan Ní Chúlacháin, representing the solicitor, for a stay on the orders until the end of this year to allow for the orderly transfer of the relevant files.

The Society had previously secured a restriction on his practising certificate with the effect he had worked as an assistant solicitor in another firm where another solicitor has made “Trojan” efforts to address the outstanding matters, Ms Fenelon added.

Ms Ní Chúlacháin said 20 “difficult” undertakings were completed in the course of the proceedings in an effort to alleviate the distress experienced but the remaining ones were the most difficult and it had not been possible to address them.

In his ruling, Mr Justice Peter Kelly stressed the essential importance of ensuring that undertakings from solicitors are complied with.

In this case, there was serious failure to comply over many years concerning a large number of undertakings and there was “substandard service” to a number of clients who experienced distress as a result.

The judge noted the serious nature of the allegations in this case and the number and duration of the failings.

He said a further aggravating factor was that Mr O’Sullivan did not reply to correspondence from complainants or deal with correspondence from the Law Society over a protracted period.

Mr O’Sullivan, he noted, was not opposing strike off and the court “could say at least that in his favour”.

The court would be failing in its obligations to the solicitors profession and the public if the strike off order was not made, he said.

While he would put a stay on that order until the end of December, he would injunct Mr O’Sullivan against providing any new undertakings or taking on new clients. Mr O’Sullivan must also pay €13,000 towards the costs of the disciplinary proceedings, he directed.