A LIMERICK woman has accused a solicitor and former partner in McMahon O’Brien Downes of retaining €7,500 due to her in an injury claim by deception, and then offering her €20,000 to drop her allegations to the gardai.
Denis McMahon, 58, of Pembroke Road, Dublin, and formerly of the North Circular Road in Limerick city, denies the charge of making gain by deception in relation to a client account in the offices of McMahon O’Brien Downes on Henry Street in the city on November 27, 2002.
A jury of six men and six men have been sworn in before Judge Pauline Codd in Limerick Circuit Court, where the trial is expected to last up to four days. The jury were warned that if they had any strong views against members of the legal profession they should not serve in this case. The accused’s client, Margaret Duggan, of Hillview Grove, Doon, Co Limerick, claimed in court yesterday that she agreed to drop the garda investigation and all allegations against the solicitor in 2008 after she was offered a bank draft of €20,000 by a representative of Mr McMahon’s in Jury’s hotel in Limerick in April of that year.
Sean Gillane, senior counsel, for the prosecution, told the court that this case dates back to 2000, when Mrs Duggan was involved in an accident at work with a dry cleaning company. She suffered a back injury and went to Mr McMahon to initiate civil proceedings.
He agreed to take on the case, and on October 22 2002 asked her to meet him in Limerick Circuit Court, as the insurance company indicated that they were “anxious to settle the case”, she said.
Mrs Duggan was not present for these discussions between Mr McMahon and the insurance company, but said he came to her with an offer of €50,000 and indicated that he might be able to get €57,500.
She said he encouraged her to accept this figure, saying “it’s a very good offer” and that they might have to wait two years for a court hearing and could possibly receive less then.
In November 2002 she said she went to his offices to collect the cheque, and was presented with a cheque for €65,000 in her name.
She said Mr McMahon said he was trusting her to bring back a draft for €7,500, made out in her name, which she presented to him and signed on the back. She said she believed that was his fee, though this was not fully explained to her at the time. “I didn’t question it; I didn’t know any different,” she told the court.
She obtained the bank draft from Bank of Ireland on O’Connell Street, where her daughter worked. He allegedly told her she was an “honest woman” to bring it to him and was willing to do business with her again, and suggested she make out her will.
It later emerged that the insurance company had settled for €65,000, not €57,000, with additional third-party legal costs made out for the sum of €16,506.
Mrs Duggan said she thought no more about the matter until 2005 when she heard a radio programme, where legal payments were being discussed, and she “became suspicious” about what had happened.
She wrote a letter to Mr McMahon, who claimed he had no recollection of receiving a bankdraft, and denied all wrongdoing and impropriety.
She contacted the Law Society, who passed a three-page letter on to her, which the accused had sent them.
In the letter, the defendant pointed out inconsistencies in Mrs Duggan’s accounts, and “utterly refuted there was any deception”. The allegations were “completely unfounded and opportunistic”, he said.
Gardai found that the bank draft was negotiated for cash in an AIB branch on O’Connell Street in Limerick on November 22, 2002.
She initially went to the gardai in 2006, but returned in 2008 to drop her case, after a representative of the accused’s allegedly contacted her to settle the dispute.
Another bank draft for €20,000 was made out in her name, which she lodged to her bank account, after signing a discharge form, in which she agreed to withdraw all allegations against Mr McMahon and the firm.
She went to the gardai on April 28, 2008, to withdraw her allegations and explained why she was doing so, giving the gardai permission to access her account on O’Connell Street.
Brendan Grehan, SC, for the defence, said Mrs Duggan gave an impression that she and her husband Donal are “total innocents” in this case, but said they are experienced litigators.
“Me, in my silliness..I was stupid, naive and very trusting, I went and got the €7,500 for him. I would have trusted him with my life,” she replied.
However, the defence suggested that “she’s not a silly, stupid, naive or trusting woman” at all.
He said the payment was done for the advantage of all concerned, and related to previous dealings Mr McMahon had with Mr Duggan.
Mr Grehan said there was “absolutely no deception” of her or her husband by his client, and that Donal Duggan had “multiple dealings” with Mr McMahon before this case.
The trial continues today.