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Serious questions about Law Society conduct

Solicitor struck off after Law Society falsely imputed an undertaking, and relied in part on a forged document and evidence from a fraudulent solicitor

By Frank Connolly

Allegations of “repeated skulduggery on the part of officials of the Law Society” are likely to be aired in the Supreme Court in the not too distant future when struck-off solicitor, Colm Murphy, finally gets his day in court.  Embroiled in a complex legal battle with the society long before, and since, he was struck  from the Roll of Solicitors in 2009, Murphy is determined that his former colleagues will no longer delay a full hearing of his claim for damages for  breach of duty, negligence, defamation and misfeasance of public office.

Kenmare-based Murphy has claimed in a detailed submission to the Supreme Court that his striking off was based on spurious and inaccurate information provided by the Law Society to its Disciplinary Tribunal and the High Court ten years ago. Key to the decision to strike him from the roll was a claim by a society official, Linda Kirwan, that Murphy had breached an undertaking he had given to the President of the High Court. Kirwan insisted in an affidavit seen by Village that she had been in the High Court on the day the undertaking was made. It was only after the unfortunate Murphy was struck off that she admitted, on affidavit and in a letter to Murphy in 2010 that she was not in fact in the court when the supposed undertaking was made. No such undertaking is recorded in the order from the court issued on the day in question.

Murphy was also able to prove, again after the strike off, that the Law Society had taken attachment and committal proceedings against him based on a document forged by Frank Fallon who was subsequently jailed for two seven-year terms. Frank Fallon had claimed that he had not received title to a property even though he had paid Murphy and received a copy of the Deed from the then solicitor. It later turned out that the Deed in question was forged by Fallon and that no such transaction had taken place.   Fallon, from Charleville in Cork, was sent to jail in Britain in 2009 after he was convicted of conspiracy to defraud by forging the wills of up to twelve people and stealing more than £500,000.

 

The Law Society case against Murphy also included an incorrect claim that he had attended an auction of the Brown Pub in Kealkill, County Cork, in August 2006 in breach of its rule that a a retired solicitor without a practising certificate cannot participate in the sale of a property by a former client. This error sparked what are known as Section 18 procedures against the former solicitor.

Murphy’s submission goes on to list various other defamatory allegations pursued by the society including an incorrect implication that his client account was overdrawn. Further, he claims that a suggestion by the President of the High Court, Nicky Kearns, back in 2010 that a full hearing of the case should take place was frustrated by the society which instead sought to restrict matters to a trial of ‘preliminary issues’ rather than a full civil action.  When the case came before Kearns again in June 2012 he queried why Murphy’s substantial case against the society had not gone ahead, as he had recommended. In his comments, Kearns referred to the case as a “spread-eagled mess” and referred to the claims of “alleged repeated skulduggery on the part of officials of the Law Society”.

If this was not the sort of thing that could bring the Law Society into disrepute, the back story to the whole affair raises even more disturbing questions about its modus operandi  in dealing with allegations of wrongdoing by its members.  Murphy has insisted that his fall from grace originates in 2001/2002 when he complained about another member of the roll, Fergus Appelbe, who also had a conveyancing practice in west Cork and south Kerry.

At a recent Disciplinary Tribunal hearing in Dublin, Appelbe admitted to various trangressions, including putting together false deeds, updating deeds to defraud the Revenue and creating a double mortgage over the same property which he owned (the same misconduct as Thomas Byrne’s). Appelbe, who through his various companies may have incurred debts in excess of €50 million, is due to learn his fate in mid-February.

What is most extraordinary about “the spread-eagled mess” is that the society appeared to have based at least some of its unfounded suspicions about Murphy on information in complaints sent to it by Applebe over ten years ago.

 

As far back as 1987/1988, Appelbe was the subject of no less than two investigations by the RTE ‘Today Tonight’ programme into his somewhat unorthodox conveyancing practices in the south west. The late Cathal O’ Shannon listed a series of allegations involving unusual land deals against Appelbe who, despite the unwanted attention, went on to invest in an impressive portfolio of properties including Waterford Castle through various companies before the crash and his rapid descent into catastrophic debt.

 

In August last year, a liquidator was appointed to the four-star castle, hotel and golf complex in Ballinakill after the operating companies, Negold Ltd. and Cendant Ltd. ended up with debts to the NAMA vehicle, National Asset Loan Management (NALM), of just under €34 million. Appelbe is one of four directors of the companies described in the High Court as hopelessly insolvent and unable to pay their debts.

 

In 2010, Allied Irish Banks (AIB) secured summary judgment orders for some €18 million against Cronin’s Wood, a development company for which Appelbe acted, over its failure to repay a loan to re-finance a property acquisition in Killarney, Co Kerry.

Mr Justice Peter Kelly granted the order against Cronin’s Wood Developments Ltd, South Mall, Cork, at the Commercial Court. He also entered judgment for €10 million arising from guarantees over the loan provided by Appelbe, and a businessman, Peter O’Sullivan, Oakwood Manor, Killowen, Kenmare (who died in June 2008).

Intriguingly, and notwithstanding the complaints against him, including by some of those who contributed to the Today Tonight programmes, Applebe was appointed to the Law Society’s Conveyancing Committee.  All in all, the full hearing of Murphy’s claim is eagerly awaited.  Murphy, who retired from the profession in 2005, is seeking to re-enter the strike off proceedings and be reinstated to the Roll of Solicitors.

 

The Law Society did not respond to a query from Village  before it went to print