Solicitor allegedly ‘witnessed’ woman’s forged signature 22 times

Cork lawyer faces disciplinary tribunal following complaint

Patrick McCullough, representing the solicitor, suggested the signing of a document by a solicitor does not necessarily mean they witnessed it being signed by a client, but rather that they witnessed the ‘company seal being affixed’. Photograph: Getty Images

Patrick McCullough, representing the solicitor, suggested the signing of a document by a solicitor does not necessarily mean they witnessed it being signed by a client, but rather that they witnessed the ‘company seal being affixed’. Photograph: Getty Images

 

A Cork solicitor is the subject of disciplinary action for allegedly facilitating the forgery of a client’s signature 22 times.

The client, a retired schoolteacher from Cork, claims the solicitor, along with a junior colleague, falsely claimed to have witnessed her signing the documents which related to a business she owned with her now ex-husband. Neither party can be named.

As part of her case against the solicitor, the woman hired a forensic handwriting examiner, previously employed by the Garda, to examine the documents. The examiner determined the woman’s signature was forged on 22 occasions, across 18 documents.

The solicitor has accepted the woman’s signatures were forgeries but has denied any wrongdoing.

The matter was the subject of a hearing at the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal on Wednesday.

The woman had first complained about the solicitor in 2019, leading to the holding of a Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal the following year. That tribunal threw out her complaint, ruling she had not made a prima facia case for wrongdoing.

She appealed the matter to the High Court. Ruling in her favour, Mr Justice Richard Humphreys said the tribunal had made “serious and significant” errors.

He ordered the tribunal to hear the matter again. Specifically the allegations that (1) the solicitor, personally and as principal of his firm, falsely witnessed her signature and falsely swore to have done so and (2) provided false or misleading information to a new solicitor instructed by the woman relating to letters he claimed to have sent her.

Wednesday’s tribunal heard affidavit evidence, provided by Maura McNally SC (with Tadhg Dorgan), that the woman established a business to buy and sell property with her then husband in 1994.

The woman owned only one share in the company and had nothing to do with its day-to-day running. Her husband was the managing director and she was listed as a director only to comply with company law, she said.

Ms McNally detailed 18 documents purportedly bearing the signatures of the woman, the woman’s husband and the solicitor, or another junior solicitor from his firm.

She said the documents contained 22 signatures purporting to be from the woman. In every case these signatures were forged, Ms McNally said, and the woman had no knowledge of them.

The documents related to bank loans, property purchases and other company matters.

Oaths

In three cases the solicitor, or his junior colleague, swore an oath that they had witnessed the documents being signed, the complainant alleged.

Ms McNally asked the woman how the solicitor could claim to have witnessed her signature, while also acknowledging it was a forgery.

“My signature is forged. I wasn’t present at the signing of this document or the witnessing of this document.”

Patrick McCullough, representing the solicitor, suggested the signing of a document by a solicitor does not necessarily mean they witnessed it being signed by a client, but rather that they witnessed the “company seal being affixed”.

He said he would be producing case law to this effect. The solicitor’s legal team also submitted that the tribunal should be stayed until the conclusion of related civil matters in the High Court, an application denied by tribunal chairman Stephen Maher.

The matter stands adjourned to December 16th, when further evidence will be heard.