Abuse of position Dáil privilege used to name judge alleged to have pursued relationship with woman
PBP TD Mr Murphy alleged the retired judge ‘abused his position to persistently and completely inappropriately pursue a vulnerable woman who was before his court on a family law matter for a sexual relationship‘
September 29 2021 05:04 PM
Allegations a judge abused his position by seeking a sexual relationship with a woman who appeared in his court have not been comprehensively dealt with, according to Taoiseach Micheál Martin.
He made the comments after People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy identified the retired District Court judge at the centre of the allegations as James O’Connor.
Mr O’Connor (69), who was based in Co Kerry, had to retire in 2018 after his application to stay on the bench for another year was refused.
Speaking in the Dáil, Mr Murphy alleged the retired judge “abused his position to persistently and completely inappropriately pursue a vulnerable woman who was before his court on a family law matter for a sexual relationship”.
He also claimed a second woman, who he called Ms B, had claimed Mr O’Connor lunged at her in a courthouse.
The first woman complained to gardaí, but it was determined no crime occurred. The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) later found no evidence gardaí had mishandled her complaint.
Mr Martin said Mr Murphy had raised “a very serious issue” and noted the matter had been considered by GSOC.
“The existing mechanisms of the investigative authorities have not been in a position to bring this to the conclusion that one would anticipate it should be,” said Mr Martin.
He continued: “There is a real issue here in terms of the authorities and in terms of how diligent assertions of this kind, allegations of this kind, are followed through and dealt with comprehensively.
“Because they haven’t been dealt with comprehensively in this case.”
Mr Martin said he was “very concerned” about the matter and wanted to give it further consideration but added that the Oireachtas “cannot investigate every single case”.
Earlier this week the Irish Independent reported the woman intended to sue the retired judge and the State, claiming state bodies failed to take appropriate action on foot of her complaints.
Mr Murphy previously raised the matter in July, without naming Mr O’Connor.
He said that since then he was contacted by another woman who told him “a very similar story” relating to the same judge.
The TD said the second woman had also been before Judge O’Connor on a family law matter.
“He approached her repeatedly, he got her number and then he persistently pursued her,” Mr Murphy said.
“There were multiple incidents. I won’t go through all of them. I will just quote one incident she told me about.”
Quoting the woman, the TD said: “He rang me another day and said he had stuff for my case. He said to meet me at the back door of the courthouse. I went to the back door and he was waiting.
“He said he didn’t have the paperwork with him. He brought me in there to get the paperwork, then he lunged at me. I pushed him and left.
“He obviously felt he could have done anything he wanted to.”
Mr Murphy described the woman making the fresh allegations as Ms B. He said there was also a third woman, Ms C.
Referring to the first complainant, Mr Murphy alleged the judge got her phone number in the context of her family law case and “then used that to pursue her inappropriately and persistently, in a way that made her scared, for a sexual relationship”.
Mr Murphy said the woman “got no joy” when she went to GSOC, and that he had written on her behalf to the Taoiseach but got no response.
The TD also said the woman understood from freedom of information requests that the Chief Justice and the Justice Minister were aware of the matter.
“Unless she had very bravely decided to speak out – and she absolutely shouldn’t have had to do that – absolutely nothing would be happening in relation to this case,” he said.
“We need action. We need change so that people in these circumstances are not subjected to the kind of abuse of power, the imbalance of power situations that exist between judges and people in front of them.”
Mr Martin said gardaí on the ground had to assess cases and that when people are concerned about how that duty is carried out, complaints can be made to GSOC.
“It is a point I make regularly here that we do need to reflect on. The first port of call has to work. Our existing agencies have to work and do their job diligently and properly,” the Taoiseach said.
Mr Martin said the Oireachtas and the Government could not replace the operational agencies and institutions established to deal with these issues.
“There is a real dilemma here in terms of how we can pursue every single case,” he said.
Later in the exchanges, Mr Martin said he was increasingly receiving feedback that many people who go to GSOC are not happy with the outcome.
“I don’t know if that is expectations being too high going into GSOC or whether there are issues in terms of the operation of GSOC,” he said.
“But there are real issues here in terms of the degree to which Government can supersede the role of the various agencies involved. That is a really legitimate problem.
“That said, very serious allegations have been made in respect of a judge, who is no longer operating as a judge.
“That judge is entitled to fight those allegations and assertions also and it is not simple in terms of the degree to which the Government can respond or how it responds. But I am going to give the matter examination.”
Mr O’Connor has not commented on the allegations.
From Glencar, near Killorglin, Co Kerry, he was appointed to the bench in 1998.
He was originally assigned to courts in Co Cork but moved to his native county in 2005.
During his time on the bench he was noted for allowing contributions to the court poor box in lieu of a conviction or in mitigation of a sentence.