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Tuesday 20 November 2018

Solicitor repays €344k he took from child's estate

A report by an independent solicitor had raised concerns about total fees, plus VAT, of some €344,000 transferred by Mr O'Callaghan between 2014 and 2017 from an estate, whose sole beneficiary was a child, to his office account to pay fees, VAT and some minor outlay. (stock image)
A report by an independent solicitor had raised concerns about total fees, plus VAT, of some €344,000 transferred by Mr O'Callaghan between 2014 and 2017 from an estate, whose sole beneficiary was a child, to his office account to pay fees, VAT and some minor outlay. (stock image)

A solicitor who paid himself "extortionate" fees of €344,000 out of a child's €454,840 estate has reimbursed that sum, the High Court has heard.

The €344,000 has been lodged in an account controlled by an independent solicitor, pending further court order.

In addition to paying the €344,000, Declan O'Callaghan, practising from Pound Street, Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon, has made proposals to the Law Society aimed at allowing him to continue to work under supervision of another solicitor, the president of the High Court was told yesterday.

The regulation of practice (ROP) committee of the society will hear details of the proposals next week to decide if they are adequate or whether the solicitor should be suspended, pending a hearing before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.

In the circumstances, Mr Justice Peter Kelly agreed to adjourn the matter to early next month.

A report by an independent solicitor had raised concerns about total fees, plus VAT, of some €344,000 transferred by Mr O'Callaghan between 2014 and 2017 from an estate, whose sole beneficiary was a child, to his office account to pay fees, VAT and some minor outlay.

The child's estate arose from the death of his father before the child was born. Mr O'Callaghan was acting from 2014 on behalf of the dead man's parents.

Mr O'Callaghan had told the independent solicitor he believed he had instructions via the child's grandparents to deduct the fees but now accepted that was a mistaken belief and the €344,000 payments were not authorised, the judge noted.

The independent solicitor's report also raised "serious questions" about the level of fees.

EXTORTIONATE

The report expressed concerns about timesheets kept and noted fees charged included €1,800 for sending a letter; €1,600 for receiving a letter and €2,000 for a consultation. The solicitor also charged €8,000 for his time spent researching and drafting an issue he was not instructed to do.

Mr O'Callaghan had also told the ROP committee last March he had taken €50,000 in anticipation of litigation costs when, the report said, it was clear from the files there was no litigation.

The independent solicitor said the fees bore no relation to the work done and described them as "extortionate".

The judge said suspension would have a detrimental effect, not just on the solicitor but would also jeopardise nine staff employed at the practice "who were not responsible at all for this unfortunate business".

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