Sunday 20 October 2019

Judge's anger at English defendant

Judge John Coughlan.
Judge John Coughlan.

A 63-year-old Englishman involved in a dispute with a neighbour over access to a laneway got short shrift from an angry Judge John Coughlan in Wexford District Court on April 21, being threatened with contempt of court and a stay in Mountjoy.

'You're meddling. You're a stranger to the matter and you're meddling. You'll end up in Mountjoy if you're not careful,' the Judge told David Roberts (63), of Lexington Grange, Rathimney, Gusserance.

The cane-carrying and suited defendant was in court on a charge of assaulting neighbour Catherine Lynch (47) at Rathimney on May 6 last year. Ms Lynch was also before the court, accused of assaulting Mr Roberts on the same occasion.

When the case was first called, Roberts indicated that he wished to apply for free legal aid, and Judge John Coughlan assigned solicitor Eric Furlong to him. When the matter was recalled later that day, Mr Furlong expressed doubt over whether the District Court had jurisdiction to deal with the matter at all. 'It appears to be a dispute over land and a clash over a laneway between their houses,' he said, referring to how legal disputes regarding title of land must be dealt with in the Circuit Court.

Mr Furlong added that there was another problem: 'Mr Roberts says he wants to choose his own solicitor, and he doesn't want me,' he said.

Solicitor Ian Ryan, appearing for Ms Lynch, said the case was 'purely an assault matter' and there was no question over ownership of any land, meaning it could go ahead in the District Court after all.

Judge John Coughlan wondered if the best way to deal with it might be to strike out the assault charges altogether and 'let them sort out the ownership and access issues in civil proceedings'.

'That would please the State,' remarked Inspector Derek Hughes.

'It might please the court too,' replied the Judge.

Mr Ryan remained anxious however for the case to proceed, saying his client was particularly nervous as Mr Roberts had been the subject of 'some sort of behaviour warning' from the Gardai in the past.

Mr Furlong - still duty-bound to act for the client who didn't want him - immediately interjected to say the proceedings should certainly be struck out now, as Mr Ryan was giving the Judge information about past behaviour that should not be presented until after a verdict is brought in.

Mr Ryan replied that he was saying nothing that hadn't been heard in court previously, and indeed, the terms of the behaviour warning formed part of a court order for disclouse of documents in the case.

Judge Coughlan said he would hear details of the alleged assault, but neither solicitor was happy for the matter to be dealt with there and then. Mr Ryan said he was still waiting for some documents, while Mr Furlong pointed out again that his client was not happy with him.

The Judge then said he would adjourn the matter instead, if both defendants gave sworn undertakings to stay away from each other completely in the meantime.

First into the witness box to give an undertaking was David Roberts. Judge Coughlan asked him if he was a native of the area.

'Seven years,' was the reply.

'That's not what I asked. You have an English accent,' answered the Judge.

'Yes, I am English,' the defendant confirmed.

The Judge then asked if he owns his house, and Roberts replied that his wife does.

'So you are a stranger to this,' the Judge said. 'You have come to the problem and you have no title of your own.'

Roberts was then asked to give the undertaking sought.

'Are you saying that I can't walk down the lane that I've been walking down every day for the past seven years?' he asked the Judge.

'I'm saying what I'm saying about you staying away from this lady and not interfering with her,' Judge Coughlan replied.

'That's not clear,' contended the defendant.

'Yes it is, and you're very close to contempt,' answered the Judge. 'You're a stranger to the matter, and you're meddling. You'll end up in Mountjoy if you're not careful.

'Get out of the witness box! Get out!' he ordered, as he became angrier.

A visibly shaken Catherine Lynch was then asked to enter the box to give her undertaking to stay away from Roberts. Judge Coughlan reassured her.

'This man is a stranger to the matter,' he repeated. 'If you have any problem with him, come back to me in court and I will order him to jail.'

Proceedings were then adjourned to May 19, but the interaction between Roberts and the Judge was not yet over as the matter of him being unhappy with the choice of solicitor was raised again.

'So what do you want?' the Judge asked him.

'I want a solicitor,' said Roberts.

'Who?' asked the Judge.

'I'll have to find one,' Roberts replied.

Judge Coughlan pointed out to him that there were a number of solicitors in court that day.

'I didn't know they would be here, and I don't know them,' Roberts said. 'I want a solicitor who can read the case properly and act for me.'

Judge Coughlan refused to change his order to assign Mr Furlong.

'The man I've nominated is an excellent solicitor. He will act for you,' he said.

Wexford People