Judge Tom O’Donnell of Limerick District Court has been nominated by the Government for appointment to the Circuit Court by the President.
The highly regarded judge, who has presided over the city court for 12 years, said he has been overwhelmed by the good wishes he has received since he learned of his nomination at lunchtime on Tuesday.
“I am dumbfounded, chuffed, and it will be a huge career change even though it is still being a judge,” he told the Limerick Leader. “I was remarking at home that I am 35 years, almost to the month, a solicitor, and I have been a judge since 1998 and nearly all of that time I have been in Limerick District Court.”
Judge O’Donnell does not know where he will be based, but the likelihood is that he will be travelling rather than appointed to a specific circuit.
Born in 1954, Judge O’Donnell was educated at Crescent College and at UCD, enrolling as a solicitor in 1976. He was appointed as a judge of the District Court in 1988 and was assigned to Limerick in 1999.
He has presided over a busy courtroom which has seen a lot of drama in that time. Crime in Limerick has made national headlines over the past decade, and the city’s reputation was something, Judge O’Donnell admits he was well aware of.
“I was always of the view that for many reasons, Limerick was much maligned in the press. We have our difficulties, that’s absolutely true. We’ve had very serious incidents, that’s absolutely true, but we are not the only city that has had difficulties as well, but there was always a huge interest if it happened in Limerick. I had to just get on with the job and do what I had to do, and that’s what I did.”
He praised the court staff, solicitors and gardai who have helped him to get through “a ferocious amount of work here”.
“It is a meeting of many parts with a very heavy work load but we manage to get through it, and get through it more than satisfactorily I would say.”
He agreed that there is a need for a second district court judge in Limerick city.
“Yes, I have no doubt about that. There is enough work for two permanent district court judges in Limerick. I think that is recognised but there are difficulties in the appointing of a second permanent judge as such.”
The judge will greatly miss the district court which has been part and parcel of his legal life, and particularly the staff who have always embraced new ideas such as the Digital Recording System spearheaded by Judge O’Donnell.
The staff at Limerick District Court are delighted that Judge O’Donnell has been recognised for his work and appointed to the circuit court, however, all expressed their disappointment at his imminent departure.
“I’m sad to be leaving as well. It’s a new chapter, it’s a new adventure. I had hoped it would happen. It has a happened. Limerick District Court will go on, but I will be sad to leave but this is called life.”