Heather Perrin, aged 61, was sentenced yesterday after an eight-day trial which heard that she tricked her 83-year-old victim into bequeathing half his estate, worth about €1m, to her two children.
Last week’s verdict marked the first time in the history of the State that a judge has been found guilty of a serious crime. Perrin offered her resignation to the President on Monday.
Judge Mary Ellen Ring said it was one of the most serious breaches of trust to come before the courts and that there was little credit to be found for Perrin.
Judge Ring said it was an aggravating factor that the offence occurred just before she became a judge and noted she continued her involvement with the victim’s legal affairs while she was on the bench.
She said the victim, Thomas Davis, appeared more than capable of giving evidence but it was an aggravating factor that he had been made go through the trial process at his age.
The judge said he also had to deal with allegations from the defence that he had simply forgotten that he left half their estate to the Perrin children.
She called Mr and Mrs Davis “a loving and generous couple” who trusted Perrin “because of a lifetime of shared experiences”. She said this was shown by the fact that they left Perrin’s children €2,000 even after the scam was uncovered.
The judge said there were some offences where a jail term is unavoidable and it was regrettable that she had no other option but to jail Perrin.
Judge Ring said she would have handed down a three-and-a-half year term if it wasn’t for Perrin’s health difficulties.
After she imposed the sentence, Perrin broke down in tears along with her family and supporters.
She spent five minutes being comforted by her husband Albert Perrin before being led away to begin her sentence.
Perrin ran a solicitors practice in north Dublin before being appointed a district court judge in Feb 2009, a month after she carried out the scam.
Perrin, of Lambay Court, Malahide, Co Dublin, had pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to deceptively inducing Mr Davis to bequeath half of his estate to Sybil and Adam Perrin at her office on Fairview Strand on Jan 22, 2009. She faced a maximum jail term of five years.
When the scam first came to light, she claimed it was a mistake by her secretary, but later said she had drafted the will in line with Mr Davis’s instructions.
Patrick Gageby, defending, asked the court for a lenient sentence as Perrin’s former position as a judge would make her time in jail more difficult.
He also presented evidence of a serious infection Perrin suffered in her leg after a knee operation earlier this year. Professor Damien McCormack told Mr Gageby that Perrin underwent knee replacement surgery during the summer but had to return to hospital with a life threatening infection. He said this required further surgery from which Perrin is still recovering.
Canon David Pierpoint told the court that Perrin was heavily involved with the Girls’ Brigade at local and national level. He a described it as a Christian youth organisation.
Mr Gageby called the offences a breach of trust and said that his client accepts the verdict of the jury “as right and proper”. He said she had resigned as a judge in light of the conviction.
He submitted that Perrin’s position as a judge will make any jail term much tougher, similar to when gardaí are sentenced to prison.
Counsel told Judge Ring that the media attention of Perrin’s “public disgrace” has made her ordeal worse and should be a factor in sentencing. He said he doesn’t blame the media for this but that it “should be taken into account in a very small way”.
He said Perrin does not come from a rich family and had “pulled herself up by her bootstraps” to attend law school.
He said her conviction marks the end of her career and that it would be unthinkable that she would practice law again.
Laurel House may sound pleasant, but Lambay Court it certainly is not.
Heather Perrin’s comfortable home in Lambay Court in leafy Malahide offered stunning views of Lambay Island, which she enjoyed with her husband Albert.
In Laurel House — one of seven “houses” in Dóchas women’s prison — Perrin, now known as prisoner 83279, will see thick opaque windows offering light, but no views.
But the rise and fall of Heather Perrin will truly hit home when she comes face-to-face with one of her “house-mates”: Scissor Sister, Charlotte Mulhall.
Mulhall is serving life for the murder of her mother’s boyfriend, Farah Swaleh Noor, in March 2005. Mulhall helped hack Mr Noor to pieces with a bread knife after slashing his throat with a Stanley knife.
Another inmate in Laurel House is Galway woman Una Black, who is serving a nine-year sentence for the manslaughter of a neighbour she stabbed to death in a drunken row about a puppy.
Laurel House will be Perrin’s home while she serves the two-and-a-half year sentence handed down for attempting to deceive an elderly friend, Thomas Davis, out of half of his €1m estate while she was a solicitor.
With standard remission, the 61-year-old former judge will serve 22 months before she is due for full release.
Perrin will be brought to Laurel House today after spending her first 24 hours in Dóchas in the Health Care Unit. Governor Mary O’Connor opted to place her in the unit, considered a “safe area”, for her first day rather than the reception area, where new committals are put on arrival.
Dóchas has one of the worst overcrowding problems in the system. When Perrin entered yesterday, there were 129 inmates in custody, with a recommended maximum capacity of 88.
Despite this, she will have the rare honour of getting her own room, which could raise the ire of other inmates.
The Irish Examiner understands Perrin has been given a single room for “security reasons,” given her position as a former judge.
Dóchas is unlike most prisons and inmates can leave and enter their room as they please and can even lock the doors behind them, subject to keyhole and security overrides by staff.
Each of the houses has a kitchenette and a mini-lounge with a TV and couch and it will be up to Perrin to decide how much she socialises with housemates.
Another aspect of life she will have to come to terms with is the communal dining. In most prisons, inmates collect their food and retreat to their cells, but in Dóchas, Perrin will have to queue and eat with others.
— Cormac O’Keeffe