Limerick solicitor admits giving client €20k to drop claim

Anne Sheridan

Reporter:

Anne Sheridan

A LIMERICK solicitor who feared his firm may have to cease trading due to a client’s allegations of deception against him has admitted giving her €20,000 to drop the claim.

A LIMERICK solicitor who feared his firm may have to cease trading due to a client’s allegations of deception against him has admitted giving her €20,000 to drop the claim.

Solicitor Denis McMahon, 58, of Pembroke Road, Dublin, denies the charge of making gain by deception in relation to a client’s account in the offices of McMahon O’Brien Downes on Henry Street in the city on November 27, 2002.

The former North Circular Road resident in Limerick has pleaded not guilty to inducing a woman to “hand over a bank draft for €7,500 with the intention of making gain for himself or another”.

His defence maintain that he and the firm were owed monies from Margaret and Donal Duggan, of Hillview Grove, Doon, Co Limerick, for a number of cases in which they represented them. While the defence said that he agreed to settle the case for €20,000, Limerick Circuit Court heard that he believed that this did not amount to “an admission of liability” in the case.

Detective Garda Margaret Nagle, Henry Street station, said the accused first went to the station for interview by appointment on April 2, 2008. In interviews with gardai, he refuted “any allegation of deception”. Asked if he was owed money from a client’s injury settlement of €65,000, he said: “I can’t say I recollect.” When it was put to him that third-party costs would have been separate, he said: “Not necessarily.”

In a written statement to gardai in September 2010, Mr McMahon wrote that he was concerned about the firm’s standing, after one of its partners spoke on the Joe Duffy show regarding solicitors’ payments in cases relating to the Redress board. He said the firm received “extensive adverse publicity”, which came as a shock to their offices and they had to employ a PR and independent legal firm to defend them.

Mr McMahon relayed that he had fears that the firm, which has 40 employees between Limerick and Dublin, “may cease to exist”, and was worried what “a second bout of bad publicity” would do to the firm.

The case, which is expected to conclude this Friday, dates back to 2000 when Margaret Duggan suffered a back injury while lifting laundry for the company Go West cleaning. She claims that she was offered a cheque for €65,000 from Mr McMahon for her injury settlement, but was told to return a bankdraft to him for €7,500. She believed this was his fee in an “off the books transaction”, but did not question it at the time. She claims she was told the case had been settled for €57,500, not €65,000, and that she dealt with Mr McMahon alone throughout the negotiations. She said she expected the balance was his, saying “I didn’t expect him to do it for nothing”. Additional third-party costs were awarded to the legal firm for €16,506.04.

Brendan Grehan, SC, for the defence, said she was giving the impression to the courts that she and her husband are “total innocents”, but he described them as serial litigators. He said Mr Duggan is a bookmaker with four betting shops, and was certainly not an “innocent abroad”, as the firm had represented him in a number of cases, including the leases of buildings, and sales of houses in Castletroy and Newport.

In the witness box, Mrs Duggan said she never had any dealings with Seamus McKenna, SC, who represented her also in the injury case. Brendan Harrison, representing Hibernian Insurance, formerly Aviva, told the court that he believed Mr McKenna would have been careful to keep his clients advised throughout any negotiation. Mr Harrison said that Mr McKenna had rejected one offer of €60,000, before eventually settling for €65,000 after “an extended set of negotiations.” Mrs Duggan said she never met or consulted with him on the case.

The case was settled in October 2002, but she contacted Mr McMahon in 2005 regarding her concerns about the bank draft, which was made out in her name. She had signed this on the back, and delivered it to his office, where he complimented her for being a “very honest woman”. However, it was only in 2005 when she heard a radio programme concerning solicitors’ payments to clients that she started re-examining the case.

The defence claims Mrs Duggan was “milking” the bad publicity the firm received around 2005, and had “Mr McMahon over a barrel.” “Presumably the money was spent by 2005,” Mr Grehan asked her. “That’s irrelevant. I could have spent it on sweets. I’m not going to answer that,” she replied. She denied this was an “opportunistic” venture, stating she just wanted to receive the €7,500 that was owed to her.

Mrs Duggan wrote to Mr McMahon saying she wanted this money back within seven to 10 days, plus interest at the standard rate.

In her letter to the Law Society she wrote that if this sum wasn’t received she wanted him struck off as a solicitor and would also inform the Revenue Commissioners.

“This was not the actions of someone who is naive and silly, but someone who was very tough. You were seriously upping the ante,” said Mr Grehan.

He said when this route of action went nowhere, she turned to the gardai. Mr McMahon then contacted a mutual friend of the Duggans with a view to settling the case privately.

Mrs Duggan’s representative was Murt Ryan, the later former chairman of Bord na gCon and a Revenue Commissioner, whom the court heard was seeking €45,000 to €50,000 to settle the case. Mrs Duggan claimed to have no knowledge of this figure, and said she was surprised to receive a figure of €20,000 in Jury’s hotel in Limerick after signing a discharge form, in which she signed to withdraw all allegations against Mr McMahon and the firm.

She went to the gardai on April 28, 2008, to withdraw her allegations and at a later date explained why she was doing so, giving the gardai permission to access her account on O’Connell Street.

When asked by the defence if she had any qualms in taking €20,000, she said: “Morals didn’t come into it, and they didn’t come into it the first time, in 2002.” The trial before a jury of six men and six men, and Judge Pauline Codd will hear from its final witness this Thursday.