Two newspapers who published an article which collapsed a criminal trial have disputed the level of costs they are liable for.
The Irish Times and Irish Examiner have been ordered to pay the costs of the trial of Paschal Carmody who is accused of obtaining more than €16,000 by deception from the families of two terminally ill cancer patients under the pretence that he could cure their cancer.
Last year, after 18 days of evidence, the trial in Clare collapsed after both newspapers carried a report which contained legal argument which took place in the absence of the jury. The newspapers were judged to have been in contempt of court by running the article although it was accepted that it was a mistake and done without malice.
They were fined €2,500 each and ordered to pay the costs of the DPP, the Courts Service and Mr Carmody, pending an evaluation of the costs by county registrar Pat Wallace. Mr Wallace assessed the total costs at €540,000.
At a hearing at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court today, the newspapers objected to the amount Mr Wallace recommended be paid to the defence team and the Courts Service.
The registrar’s report outlined legal costs of €150,000 for Michael Staines Solicitors which represented Mr Carmody. The report also recommended a “brief fee” of €32,000 plus €3,000 a day for the senior defence counsel in the case, Patrick Marrinan SC.
Staines Solicitors had originally requested €200,000 costs while Mr Marrinan had applied for a brief fee of €50,000 and a daily fee of €4,000.
Counsel for the newspapers, Eoin McCullough SC, submitted to Judge Donagh McDonagh that the costs were excessive on several grounds. In the case of the solicitor’s costs, he said the county registrar had speculated that the trial required five weeks of preparatory work, all carried out by the most senior solicitor in the firm, at a cost of €430 per hour.
Counsel said it did not make sense that all the work would be carried out by the most senior solicitor, Michael Staines, and that surely junior solicitors would be given the more menial tasks.
He also said that the figure of €430 per hour is in excess of anything that had been awarded before and “it is hard to see where it came from.” Mr McCullough further disagreed that five weeks preparatory work was required, stating that because it was a retrial there wold be “some residual knowledge.”
He submitted that a more realistic assessment is two or three weeks preparation with half the work done by Mr Staines at €200 an hour and half done by a more junior solicitor at €150 a hour.
Counsel also disputed the figure of €18,000 for two solicitors “on stand-by” in the Dublin offices during the trial to carry out any legal research as it came up. He said the county registrar had no knowledge of the work carried out by these solicitors and that even if they were awarded a stand-by fee, it should not be in excess of €200 a day.
The fees recommended for Mr Marrinan were also disputed. Mr McMcCullough pointed out that the daily “refresher” fee of €3,000 is €500 more than those charged by senior counsel during the tribunals.
He also said the brief fee should be in line with that charged by the senior counsel for the State, which was about €4,200 excluding VAT.
Lastly the newspapers disputed the cost to the Court Service of €3,394 for a registrar for the trial. Counsel said this amount was a salary which would have to be paid anyway, whether the trial went ahead or not.
Aoife Corridan for Staines Solicitors submitted that Mr Staines had underestimated the amount of hours he worked on the case.
She told Judge McDonagh he can only correct an error of costs if it is serious enough to “cause an injustice.” She said Mr Wallace had submitted a detailed and considered report and was not unreasonable in his assessments.
She said Mr Carmody’s trial was very complex and was not like a firearms or drugs trial that would usually be in the Circuit Court. She said the amount of preparation was more in line with a medical negligence case in the High Court.
Ms Corridan said the defence team had to deal with 100 witnesses, thousands of pages of evidence and transcripts from the previous trial and High Court hearings related to the case.
She also said the fees reflected a high burden of responsibility on Mr Staines and Mr Marrinan. She said their professional reputations were on the line and their client faced a jail sentence if convicted.
Judge McDonagh said he is going to take some time to consider the issue and commented that the case is “interminable.” He adjourned the matter until next week when he will inform the parties how long his judgement will take.
Mr Carmody denies all the charges against him. Last week a court heard that he wants a retrial to take place “as soon as possible.”