herald

Friday 23 February 2018

Coke-find solicitor has had €1.1m in legal aid fees over past five years

Aonghus McCarthy was caught with cocaine in his wallet
Aonghus McCarthy was caught with cocaine in his wallet

A solicitor caught with cocaine in his wallet at Mountjoy Prison is one of the best-paid criminal legal aid solicitors in the country, new figures show.

According to figures from the Department of Justice, Aonghus McCarthy's practice has received €1.093m in criminal legal aid fees from the State over the past five years.

Last year he received €287,460 in legal aid fees - putting him among the top 20 best-paid solicitors out of the 850 solicitors who receive payments under the criminal legal aid scheme.

Mr McCarthy is set to escape a conviction for the possession of €26 of cocaine, weighing 0.33g, at Mountjoy - after a judge this week accepted the 32-year-old's explanation that he did not know he was carrying the drug.

In a garda interview, Mr McCarthy denied owning the cocaine and said someone else must have put it in his wallet.

"I do not do drugs and I would not risk the entirety of my career," he said.

Donates

Judge Gerry Jones said he would strike out the case next month if Mr McCarthy donates €1,250 to the Merchant's Quay drug project.

A conviction would have jeopardised Mr McCarthy's career as a solicitor and put in doubt the projected millions of euro he will earn in future years from his criminal legal aid work.

Mr McCarthy's earnings from criminal legal aid work reached a peak of €343,893 in 2016, when he was ranked the seventh best-paid criminal legal aid solicitor in the country.

The 2016 payments compared to €50,003 in 2013.

From the fees received, Mr McCarthy has to pay the cost of operating an office, including payments to staff.

The overall figures showed that last year, €53.68m was paid in criminal legal aid to lawyers - an increase of 9pc on the €49m paid out in 2017.

Solicitors last year received €32.2m in fees - an increase of 13pc on the €29.3m paid out in 2016.

Payments to barristers increased by 8.5pc, rising from €19.83m to €21.49m, made up of 87 senior counsel receiving €8.8m, and 478 junior counsel receiving €12.69m.

The best-paid lawyer in the country last year was Michael Bowman, who received €566,156. The second-highest paid was Bernard Condon, who received €459,291.

Michael O'Higgins is currently representing murder accused Patrick Hutch (25) in the Regency murder trial.

He was one of five barristers to receive between €300,000-€400,000 last year, when he received €306,642.

Sean Gillane is leading the prosecution case in the Regency murder trial and last year received €203,141.

Mr Gillane's most recent high-profile case was representing Aer Lingus ground handler Frederick Cham (53), who was jailed for four years this week for helping to smuggle people into the country.

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