High Court: Solicitor with 35 years experience must practice under supervision due to persistent bad record
A solicitor who has appeared in the Solicitors Disciplinary List on more occasions than any other practitioner, and who continues to have a bad record, has lost his case against the Law Society of Ireland in which he sought to have his practising certificate issued to him without conditions.
Mr Condon applied to the High Court to direct that his practising certificate for 2016 be issued to him without conditions pursuant to section 49(6)(b)(ii) of the Solicitors Act 1954, as amended.
In the alternative, Mr Condon sought pursuant to section 49(6)(b)(iii) of the Solicitors Act 1954, a direction that his practising certificate for 2016 should issue subject to such conditions as the Court deems meet.
Every solicitor is obliged to apply on an annual basis for the grant of a practising certificate by the Law Society.
Towards the end of 2015 Mr Condon applied to the Law Society for a practising certificate for 2016, and in January 2016 the Complaints and Client Relations Committee of the Law Society of Ireland decided to grant to Mr Condon a practising certificate for 2016 with conditions attached to it.
Mr Justice Kelly stated that at the time of his application Mr Condon ‘had and continues to have a very bad record as a solicitor’ with eight findings of professional misconduct made against him between 2010 and 2015, resulting in him being censured on seven occasions and being admonished and advised on one occasion.
In respect of the findings made against him, Mr Condon has been directed to pay sums totalling in excess of €20,000 exclusive of cost liabilities - the bulk of which remain unpaid.
Apart from the findings of misconduct Mr Condon had five inquiries pending before the Disciplinary Tribunal at the time that he applied for his 2016 practising certificate, and in addition, the Law Society has had to apply to court on four different occasions for relief against Mr Condon because of his failure to respond to correspondence from the complaints section of the Society.
Previous conditions imposed
In 2010, 2014 and 2015, conditions were imposed on Mr Condon’s practising certificates, with the 2015 conditions permitting him to practise but under supervision.
When Mr Condon applied for his practising certificate for 2015, he was informed that because of the number and nature of complaints that had been made against him he should attend a meeting scheduled for the 23rd January 2015.
Having failed to attend this meeting, the Committee decided that Mr Condon would only be permitted to practise under supervision during that year.
After several challenges to this decision, and significant delay caused by Mr Condon’s actions - it was not until 21st December 2015 that Mr Bill Stokes - Mr Condon’s nominee as supervisor - was able to attend at Mr Condon’s office.
Mr Stokes’ supervision ended on 31st December 2015 – thus the intended supervision lasted little more than a week, much of which was taken up with the Christmas vacation.
Mr Stokes’ supervision report
Despite the short period of supervision available to Mr Stokes, he produced a report intimating that Mr Condon tended to lack pragmatism and management skills, particularly in organisation and business acumen.
The report noted a ‘huge amount of arrears of mail’, and concern that there may be some pressure on the office account.
Furthermore, Mr Stokes stated that he was ‘without one shred of reservation, appalled and concerned with the verbal abuse, humiliation, bullying and the general manner’ by which Mr Condon treated his secretary.
The Function of the Committee
The Solicitors Act 1954 provides the Law Society with the discretion to direct the Registrar to either issue a practising certificate unconditionally or conditionally, or to refuse to issue a practising certificate. In considering the discretionary function being exercised by the Committee, Justice Kelly referred to several cases including Re Crowley ; Re D, A Solicitor ; and Kennedy v Law Society of Ireland (Unreported, 29th April 1998).
From this examination, Justice Kelly was satisfied that the work of the Committee was not of a disciplinary nature, that restrictions may be placed upon a practising certificate as a precaution in case ‘future practice by the solicitor should prove dangerous to the public or the profession’, and that this specialist committee is one to which a measure of curial deference ought to be shown.
While not raised by either party in the case, Justice Kelly was obliged to take into consideration the 2015 litigation in which Mr Condon was sued in his capacity as a solicitor for holding €23,000 connected to the administration of two estates. Mr Condon was committed to prison in this High Court ruling, but narrowly avoided jail at the last minute by producing a bank draft for the €23,000 owed.
Justice Kelly stressed that the ‘fact that a committal order had to be made against a solicitor in order to ensure compliance with an order of this Court is a further justification for the notion that Mr Condon does require to be under supervision in his practice as a solicitor’.
Justice Kelly was of the view that Mr Condon had no concept that the purpose of supervision would be in his own interests as much as anyone else’s; and furthermore, had no real insight into ‘the seriousness of his position, the substandard nature of his practices, the numerous findings of professional misconduct and the plethora of litigation’ he has engaged in; also emphasising the fact that Mr Condon ‘appeared in the Solicitors Disciplinary List on more occasions than any other solicitor’.
Justice Kelly held that the Law Society was fully justified in requiring Mr Condon to practise subject to conditions, and that the proposed conditions were entirely reasonable.
Refusing the application to direct the issue of a practising certificate to Mr Condon without conditions, Justice Kelly also refused to rescind the direction given by the Committee, thereby confirming that the practising certificate of Mr Condon for 2016 be subject to the 14 conditions applicable to the supervision.
- by Róise Connolly for Irish Legal News