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Dublin: 14 °C Thursday 2 July, 2020

Court dispute involving Catholic priest facing drug charges in US to be heard in October

Fr Michael O’Leary was arrested for possession of a controlled substance in March.

Image: PA Images

A HIGH COURT dispute involving a Catholic priest facing drug charges in the United States and his siblings over their late mother’s will won’t be heard until the new legal term commences in October.

The case involving Fr Michael O’Leary, who along with his brother John O’Leary, is being sued by his siblings Nora Harpur, Barry O’Leary, Tadgh O’Leary and Marie O’Leary aimed at setting aside the late Elizabeth O’Leary’s will came before Mr Justice Senan Allen on Monday.

The High Court action aimed at setting aside the will is brought on grounds including undue influence. The claims are denied and the action is fully contested.

In a pretrial motion, the judge dismissed the plaintiffs’ application for the discovery of the priest’s bank account records between 2006 and the end of 2010.

Barney Quirke SC for the plaintiffs said his clients were seeking the discovery of information they believe is “highly relevant” to their claim.

Counsel said his clients were concerned about transactions involving their mother’s bank accounts in 2009.

There were two transactions in 2009 of approximately €5,000 each out of the woman’s bank account, which his clients believed were “suspicious,” counsel said.

Counsel said that following one of those transactions, one of the plaintiffs was contacted by staff at AIB, where the account was held.

The bank official said that their mother seemed to be unaware that money had been moved out of her account.

Counsel said it is their case that if money went to either the priest’s account or a joint account held in the names of him and the deceased, it would “show a pattern of undue influence”.

‘Fishing expedition’

The additional discovery, counsel said, was sought arising out of the events concerning the priest in the US.

Counsel said that while the application had been made quite late, his clients are anxious that the matter is heard as soon as possible.

Opposing the application, Helen O’Sullivan for the priest said that the discovery in the case had closed in January 2018, and what was now being sought was broad and wide.

Giving the court’s decision, Mr Justice Allen said he did not agree with the plaintiffs that the discovery application was not “a fishing expedition”.

“It seems to me that it is,” the judge said, adding that he was not prepared to make an order for discovery against the priest in respect of his bank accounts.

The judge noted that there had been a prior agreement in respect of a request for the discovery of bank statements concerning a joint account held by the priest and his mother.

The court gave the priest six weeks to comply with that agreed discovery, and adjourned the case, which is now unlikely to be heard until October at the earliest.

Entered rehabilitation programme

The case came before the Court in June when Fr O’Leary’s lawyers secured an adjournment because of difficulties concerning his availability to attend court following his arrest on 17 March in New York.

He has since gone into a rehabilitation programme, and intends to give evidence in the will dispute.

The action was originally supposed to be heard earlier this year, but could not proceed due to the lack of a judge to hear the case.

Previously the court heard that the 50 year-old priest was arrested by New York Police after it is claimed they recovered half an ounce of methamphetamine, two scales and other materials used for packaging narcotics in a vehicle he and another man were in.

He now faces charges before a New York Court, including criminal possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell, two counts of criminal use of drug paraphernalia and the criminal possession of a controlled substance.

In their action, the priest’s four plaintiffs seek an order condemning a will his mother of Morehampton Road, Donnybrook, Dublin 4 made in 2009 on grounds including that she was not of sound mind when it was executed.

It is claimed the family home was left to the defendants, while the residue of the estate was left to the other siblings. She died in 2014.

It is also alleged that undue influence was exerted over the late woman by the defendants when she was preparing and executing the 2009 will.

The claims are denied.

Comments have been closed as the case is before the courts.

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About the author:

Aodhan O Faolain

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