High Court President: Solicitor 'not fit to be member of the profession' and cannot expect 'mercy'

By Ann O'Loughlin

A struck-off solicitor who had a deficit of €625,000 on a client account is not a fit person to be a member of the solicitors profession, the President of the High Court has held.

Mr Justice Peter Kelly said solicitors who treat client funds as their own cannot expect any "mercy" from the court.

Clients should be entitled to expect, when they consult a solicitor, the solicitor is someone they can trust, he said. Solicitors cannot expect any mercy for "gross breach" if they cannot be trusted with the funds or property of someone else.

He made the remarks when granting an application by the Law Society for an order that Galway-based Áine Feeney McTigue is not a fit person to be a member of the profession.

In an affidavit, Mary Fenelon, of the Society's Regulatory Legal Services Section, said Ms Feeney McTigue was struck off the Roll of Solicitors in December 2015.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal subsequently finalised one complaint against Ms Feeney McTigue in June 2016 on foot of which it recommended an order be sought that the former solicitor is not a fit person to be a member of the profession.

The Tribunal was dealing with matters arising from the former solicitor's failure to file her accountant's report for the year ended December 2014 with the Society in a timely manner or at all, she said.

The Tribunal finalised a further complaint against the former solicitor in July 2017 when it made findings of professional misconduct including that Ms Feeney McTigue allowed a minimum deficit on the client account of €625,000 as of August 21st 2015, failed to keep proper books of account and explain discrepancies in her accounts, and had made round sum transfers of €77,730 from the client account to the office account which were not attributed to clients and not billed.

Arising from this matter, the Tribunal recommended the Society seek orders from the High Court that Ms Feeney McTigue is not a fit person to be a member of the solicitors' profession and requiring her to pay €5,000 towards the costs of the Tribunal hearing and the costs of this application.

Claims in the hundreds of thousands to date have been made against the Solicitors Compensation Fund arising from this matter, Ms Fenelon told the court.

Making the orders sought, Mr Justice Kelly this was "sadly another case of a solicitor with a deficit on their client account".

There have been a number of such cases in recent times and in this case the deficit was a large sum of €625,000, he said.

Ms Feeney McTigue seems to have fallen into same error as some other solicitors in regarding client funds as her funds which was not the case, he said.

The Society's Compensation Fund faced paying out hundreds of thousands and clients also suffered because they have to go through the process of recovering funds.

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