A judge has ruled that Seán FitzPatrick can get a fair trial despite eight years’ publicity leaving him with a “negative” reputation.
Judge Martin Nolan rejected an application from lawyers defending the former Anglo Irish Bank chairman who asked for his upcoming trial to be adjourned because of a recent case involving other Anglo officials.
The trial and convictions of the officials resulted in a “cascade of sludge” being visited on the head of Mr FitzPatrick, Bernard Condon SC, defending Mr FitzPatrick, told the court on an earlier date. He submitted that this recent adverse publicity would be fresh in the minds of the public and meant that his client could not get a fair trial until the memory of this has faded.
Mr Condon argued that a trial on October 5 would be a “deeply flawed” process.
Mr FitzPatrick, 66, of Whitshed Road, Greystones, Co Wicklow, had pleaded not guilty to 27 offences under the 1990 Companies Act. These included 21 charges of making a misleading, false or deceptive statement to auditors and six charges of furnishing false information in the years 2002 to 2007.
Yesterday at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, Judge Nolan said this was a unique case in legal history because the accused man has been the subject of “huge criticism, ridicule and odium since 2008”. He said he had to decide whether an adjournment of the trial will allow for the adverse publicity and odium heaped on Mr FitzPatrick to fade. He said that a fade-out of publicity was not possible for Mr FitzPatrick.
He said that many events will occur between now and October, including a couple of All-Irelands, a rugby world cup, and the build-up to a general election.
“I’ve no doubt there will be villains and heroes produced in the media,” he said.
He said he believed that a jury could try the case on what they would hear in evidence during a trial and nothing else. He said they could be directed to ignore any adverse publicity and that the accused could get a fair trial. He said that despite “eight years of bad publicity” Mr FitzPatrick can get a fair trial from an impartial jury.
He said: “Mr FitzPatrick’s reputation is negative at this stage. It seems to be that the trial should go ahead.”
Judge Nolan said he took comfort from a previous trial whereby a jury acquitted Mr FitzPatrick and that “most of them had to know what had been said about him”.
Mr FitzPatrick is accused of failing to disclose to Anglo’s auditors, Ernst and Young, the true amount of loans to him or people connected with him.
The prosecution claims he authorised arrangements to ensure that the balance of those loans would be reduced or appear to be reduced at year end and failed to tell the auditors.
He is also accused of failing to tell the auditors about arrangements between Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide Building Society in connection with loans to him by Irish Nationwide. Finally, he is accused of producing financial statements about the value of loans to Anglo directors which failed to include the true amounts outstanding by him.
Mr Condon had submitted that the “heightened emotion” surrounding the Anglo officials ‘trial and the current banking inquiry should be “calmed and cooled”. He said he couldn’t say what the appropriate fade factor is but that his client’s right to a fair trial is a “superior right”.
Paul O’Higgins SC, prosecuting, had argued that the publicity did not render Mr FitzPatrick’s upcoming trial “incapable of going on”.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved