A District Court judge has been convicted of attempting to deceive her elderly friend out of half of his estate while he was a client of her solicitors firm.
Heather Perrin (aged 60) was found guilty by a jury today after a seven-day trial which heard that she tricked her victim into bequeathing half his estate worth, about €1m, to her two children.
Perrin ran a solicitors practice in North Dublin before being appointed a District Court judge in February 2009, a month after she carried out the scam.
The jury returned a guilty verdict after three hours and 43 minutes of deliberation. The judge was remanded on continuing bail until November 28 for sentencing. She was ordered to surrender her passport to Malahide Garda Station by 3.30pm this afternoon.
Perrin looked shocked when the verdict was read out. She wiped away tears and was comforted by her husband and supporters after the jury left.
Perrin of Lambay Court, Malahide 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 January 22, 2009. She faces a maximum jail term of five years.
She is the first judge in the history of the State to be convicted of a serious crime. She is currently on long-term sick leave and can only be removed from the bench by the Oireachtas.
According to the prosecuting counsel Dominic McGinn SC, Perrin fought the case using “lies, half-truths and deceptions”. When the scam first came to light she claimed it was a mistake by her secretary but later claimed she had drafted the will in line with Mr Davis’s instructions.
Her defence team suggested that Mr Davis, who is aged in his eighties, suffered memory problems and had forgotten leaving half his estate to the Perrin children. The prosecution produced medical evidence that Mr Davis had a good mental capacity and no memory problems.
Charges of deception relating to the will of Mr Davis’s wife, Ada, were dropped before the trial because her mental state has declined to the point where she is unable to give evidence.
The trial heard that Thomas and Ada Davis decided to make their wills with Perrin before she was officially made a judge. Mr Davis gave instructions to leave €2000 each to various churches, €2000 each to Perrin’s children and split everything else between his two nieces.
When he went into her office to sign the will the meeting was rushed as Perrin said she had urgent business to attend to. He was not given an opportunity to read the will nor was it read over to him. He said he didn’t have a problem with this as he trusted Perrin.
The trial heard that the will Mr Davis signed actually split his estate between his nieces and Perrin’s two children. After the meeting with Mr Davis her husband, Albert Perrin, signed the will as a witness.
Several months later Mr Davis received a copy of his will which left out the bequest of half his estate to the Perrin children.
When a new law firm took over Perrin’s practice they wrote to the Davis’s querying several irregularities in their legal documents. Mrs Davis asked Perrin for her help in dealing with the firm.
The judge drafted several increasingly irate letters to the firm demanding they stop contacting the Davis’s and that they return the wills and other legal documents. She had Mr Davis sign the letters before sending them.
On several occasions Perrin sent a friend of hers to pick up the wills, but the firm refused to hand them over without proper authorisation from the Davises.
Eventually the firm examined Mr Davis’s will and noticed the bequest to the Perrin children.
They again wrote to him asking if it was above aboard. When Mr Davis received this letter he immediately went to the law offices where he was shocked to see the will leaving half his estate to Perrin’s children.
He made a new will in line with his original wishes but still left her children €2000 each.
That evening the Davises contacted Perrin who said it must have been a mistake by her secretary.
She was later interviewed five times by gardaí during which she claimed the will was in line with Mr Davis’s instructions and that he did not want to leave his nieces all his estate because he was unhappy with how they had squandered money from him in the past.
The trial heard evidence from both nieces that they have well-paying, steady jobs. They said they had received Stg£40,000 from their uncle, but that they used some of it to pay off a mortgage and the rest was still in a bank account.
The sole witness for the defence was Perrin’s legal secretary, Pauline Ball.
Ms Ball said she was in the office when the will was signed and that it was read over to Mr Davis.
She denied “learning her story” before giving evidence and said she was not shocked about the generosity of the will because the Davises were very generous people.