The Courts Service has announced the retirement of Judge James O’Connor, the district court judge in Kerry who was noted for his judicial leniency through the use of the court poor box.
On sick leave since January last, it is believed Mr O’Connor, 66, may have preferred an extension to the post but was turned down.
His ordinary date of retirement as a district court judge was on turning 65 in July 2017, but he served an extra year “as allowed under the statute”, the Courts Service said.
Provisions allow for a retiring judge of the district court to take a legal challenge in the High Court if an application for an extension is rejected. It is believed Mr O’Connor’s preference is to remain in the post.
Under Section 2 of the Courts of Justice (District Court) 1949, a committee made up of the Chief Justice, the President of the High Court, and the Attorney General can, by a majority and after consultation with the minister for justice, continue a district court judge in office until the age of 70.
Meanwhile, Mr O’Connor, as a judge, possibly used his discretion more than most of his colleagues for convicted offenders to contribute to the court poor box, which aided charities.
Official figures last year showed close to €400,000 had been raised in one calendar year in Kerry compared to a countrywide total of €1.5m.
Local solicitors had also pressed Judge O’Connor to apply leniency through the court box process to reduce the risk of judicial penalties. In some cases, boy racers were directed to pay €3,000 to the court poor box to avoid a stiffer penalty while some cannabis users had cases struck out in lieu of payments to the poor box of €400 to €500.
Fellow Kerryman, Michael Healy-Rae TD, yesterday praised Judge O’Connor for his great understanding of the issues associated with rural life.
A native of Glencar near Killorglin, Co Kerry, Mr O’Connor had been appointed to the bench in 1998 by then justice minister John O’Donoghue.
His first assignment was to the neighbouring District Court Number 18 which included West Cork as well as Macroom and Kanturk areas.
In 2005, he was appointed a judge in his home county and presided over South Kerry, Tralee, and Listowel.
Independent TD Mr Healy-Rae paid a warm tribute to the retired judge.
“I am very sorry to see Judge O’Connor going off the bench as being from a rural community himself, he had a great understanding of the issues and the problems people had in life, particularly coming from rural areas — be they rural isolation, unemployment, and depression.
“When you have someone sitting in judgement of people you need them to be able to look at the complete picture and I believe that Judge O’Connor was very capable in that regard,” said the Kerry TD.
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