€240,000 paid from Law Society compensation fund over liabilities of struck off solicitor, court hears

Almost €240,000 has been paid out of the Law Society's compensation fund in order to meet the liabilities of a struck off solicitor, the High Court has heard.

Imelda Leahy, formerly practising as Imelda Leahy & Company Solicitors, Bagenalstown, Co Carlow, was struck off the roll of solicitors in July 2018 over findings of professional misconduct, including taking some €173,543 from a deceased woman’s estate when she was not entitled to do so.

When making that strike off order, the president of the High Court, Mr Justice Peter Kelly said, given the level of “miscreancy” involved, Ms Leahy was “not a fit and proper person to be a solicitor”.

He was very concerned she had provided the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) with forged authorisations and forged opinion of a barrister purportedly authorising some of the disputed payments to her, he said.

He directed that documents in the case should be provided to the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation for its consideration.

When the matter returned before the judge today, he was told some €239,451 has been paid out of the Society's compensation fund in relation to the liabilities of Ms Leahy.

Remarking this was the "final chapter" in the proceedings, he made various orders on consent finalising accounts and permitting the Society to hold any monies received by Ms Leahy's former practice to offset the compensation fund payments.

Ms Leahy will receive a final payment of €600 towards living expenses. The Society had previously consented to her receiving, out of fee monies received by her practice, €150 weekly living expenses over a period.

The strike off application arose from findings last February of the SDT, including that Ms Leahy had, between September 2013 and October 2014, transferred costs totalling some €130,000 on 25 separate occasions from the estate of a deceased woman.

The court was also told Ms Leahy had also taken two payments of €15,000 each plus travel expenses of €1,300, from the same estate, and those payments were not recorded in the office ledger account for that client.

The Succession Act provides, because Ms Leahy was executrix of the estate and had witnessed the will, any bequest or estate interest was null and void.

The SDT also found a €10,000 bequest from the estate to priests in Bagenalstown was not paid in a timely manner.

Ms Leahy was solicitor for a number of clients in flooding cases and the SDT found she had not told them of the full settlement amounts in their cases, and appeared to have allowed a shortfall of some €36,000 in client funds due to third parties because she transferred excessive costs in those.

The SDT also found she had taken costs of some €47,150 before VAT from another estate without authority from the client.

A solicitor on behalf of Ms Leahy said she is a lone parent with a €300,000 mortgage and argued she had not personally benefitted from the matters alleged and is not dishonest.

Ms Leahy was previously found guilty in 2011 by the SDT of misconduct in that she, in order to draw down a €5.8m sum from a bank, confirmed to its solicitor in December 2007 she had received a full 10 per cent deposit of €500,000 in relation to ten sales when she had not.

Arising from that, the former president of the High Court approved the SDT’s recommendation permitting her to continue practice under supervision.

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