Dublin solicitor guilty of professional misconduct

Friday 20 September 2013 11.49
The Law Society has asked the tribunal to refer Greg O'Neill to the High Court to be struck off
The Law Society has asked the tribunal to refer Greg O'Neill to the High Court to be struck off

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal has recommended that a well-known Dublin solicitor be struck off after he was found guilty of several charges of professional misconduct.

Following a hearing today, the three-man tribunal concluded that Greg O'Neill, who had a former practice at the Capel Building in Dublin city, was not a fit person to be a solicitor.

Mr O'Neill previously represented the families of the victims of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and the Stardust Victims' Committee.

The tribunal today heard he suffers from severe depression and has debts of about €500,000.

Delivering the findings, Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal Chairman Justin Condon said it acknowledged the good work that Mr O'Neill had carried out over the years, and the public nature of that work, but that the matters that had been discovered constituted misconduct.

The professional misconduct related to over €35,000, which he owed to five former clients.

He had failed to pass on compensation claims and insurance payouts and had not refunded clients' fees when ordered to do so.

He was also found to have brought the profession into disrepute by failing to communicate adequately, or at all, with clients and the Law Society and failing to meet his statutory obligations to file financial reports.

After hearing evidence from many of the former clients involved, the tribunal directed the Law Society to apply to the High Court to have his name struck off the Roll of Solicitors.

During the hearing today, the tribunal heard evidence that Mr O'Neill had a long history of severe depression.

A consultant psychiatrist at the Dublin Stress Clinic at St John of God Hospital said Mr O'Neill had a particular type of depression that had appeared resistant to treatment and caused cognitive changes, describing his behaviour as dysfunctional.

Dr Ronald Draper said he doubted Mr O'Neill could function as a solicitor now, saying if he was pushed into practice he "might not be in such good shape".

The tribunal also heard that Mr O'Neill's practice had collapsed in March 2011 and he had not worked since then.

Chartered accountant and family friend Peter Manahan gave evidence that he estimated Mr O'Neill's debts to be in the region of €500,000.

He said he owed money to the Revenue Commissioners for several years and so had not received a tax clearance certificate, which meant he could not get payment for his work for the State.

Mr O'Neill’s barrister Cormac Ó Dúlacháin said the solicitor had made a "very extensive contribution" to the profession which was not to his own financial benefit.

He said his work had never been in the commercial side of property.

He said his history of depression had been made worse by pressure building up on him because of financial liabilities and the service he was offering his clients.

He said it was not a case that he had used practice funds to "gamble on stock markets or buy property".

The tribunal heard evidence today from some of the former clients that Mr O'Neill owed money to.

One woman, Susan Grey, had hired Mr O'Neill to represent her at her husband's inquest, but she told the tribunal today that he had failed to do so.

She said he caused her so much grief and pain in addition to what she was already going through following the loss of her husband.

Following intervention from the Law Society, he was ordered to pay her €3,000, but never did.

Today the tribunal again ordered Mr O'Neill to pay over the money.

In another case, Mr O'Neill was ordered to refund fees to former client Irene Comiskey.

She had engaged him for a sensitive case she was taking in the High Court.

The tribunal heard she paid him €30,000 in fees, but later discovered the barrister was acting on a "no foal, no fee" basis.

He was ordered to refund her fees but did not pay her €15,250.

The Law Society Compensation Fund subsequently paid her the money she was owed.

Another former client, Josephine Murphy, was awarded €85,000 following a personal injuries action.

But Mr O'Neill only paid €69,000 to her.

He later claimed this was due to an accounting error. Ms Murphy gave evidence today that she was "absolutely disgusted" that she had to battle her solicitor for her own money.

He never paid over the missing funds, and the Law Society Compensation Fund later met the balance.

Mr O'Neill also was found to owe €1,235 in unrefunded fees and interest to William Anthony Hurrell, and a further €1,000 in unpaid professional fees to John Hanibode.