Another casualty of the recession



It’s a lot of money’ – judge aghast at legal fees in former developer Sean Dunne’s US Supreme Court case

Shane Phelan

A US bankruptcy judge has expressed concern about proposed €1,660-an-hour fees and a €92,000 retainer sought by a law firm being drafted in to fight Irish property developer Sean Dunne in the United States Supreme Court.

Judge Julie Manning described the hourly rate sought by one lawyer as “a lot of money”, saying: “I don’t know that it is necessary under these circumstances.”

It is the third time the judge has ­criticised legal costs in the protracted bankruptcy, which have exceeded €12m.

Mr Dunne, once dubbed the Baron of Ballsbridge, filed for bankruptcy in 2013 in Connecticut, where he was living at the time. He had debts of €700m.

At a hearing in the US state on Tuesday, Judge Manning said she would need more information before ­deciding whether to grant an application by bankruptcy trustee Richard Coan to hire Washington DC law firm Cooper & Kirk to oppose appeals lodged by Mr Dunne (69) and his ex-wife Gayle Killilea (48).

Both are challenging aspects of a 2019 finding by a US jury which made Ms ­Killilea liable to pay €18m in ­damages to the trustee for fraudulent transfers she received from her ex-husband.

Despite the judge’s concerns, Carlow-born Mr Dunne’s largest creditors Nama and Ulster Bank have supported Mr Coan’s application. The two creditors will foot 97pc of the legal bills if the appointment of the firm is approved.

It was revealed yesterday one of the lawyers Mr Coan wants to hire, Charles J Cooper, is seeking his “customary billing rate” of $1,795 (€1,660) an hour, while two other attorneys at the firm charge $1,095 (€1,010) and $775 (€720) an hour.

The rate sought by Mr Cooper is three times that currently being charged by a “special counsel” working for Mr Coan.

The US Supreme Court has asked the trustee to file a response to petitions for certiorari – a writ by which a higher court reviews a case tried in a lower court – filed by Mr Dunne and Ms Killilea before it considers whether to accept their appeals for hearing.

Lawyers for Mr Coan said the trustee wanted to hire a firm with Supreme Court experience and claimed the rates being charged were not out of line.

“It was the trustee’s decision that he proceed in the Supreme Court with experienced, sophisticated court counsel,” said Timothy Miltenberger, a lawyer for the trustee. But Judge Manning said: “That doesn’t mean it is acceptable to have somebody bill almost $2,000 an hour and ask for a $100,000 retainer when all you are doing is replying to a petition for cert at this point.”

The judge said there were “a lot of firms that would do Supreme Court work for less than that”. However, Hank Baer, a lawyer for Nama and Ulster Bank, said his clients were “wholeheartedly in support of the application”.

“Ultimately we came to the conclusion that it is absolutely critical for the estate that this be granted. We do so not lightly as it is a meaningful expense,” he said.

“But we also think it is absolutely critical when going before the Supreme Court that the trustee is represented by counsel who has experience and expertise in the area. Supreme Court litigation is very specialised. There is an expense that comes with that.”

Judge Manning said she would need an outline of any fees and expenses the firm has already incurred, as well as written confirmation no retainer has been paid, before making her decision.

In 2021, the judge was critical of the unauthorised hiring, by lawyers for the trustee, of financial consultants to look into Mr Dunne’s solvency between 2008 and 2010. She also expressed concerns at the time about the overall cost of pursuing Mr Dunne’s assets, saying that at some point a “cost-benefit analysis” would have to be done.

Is he actually properly separated from the wife? I can’t help but feel it’s all a bit contrived to put distance between him and the assets.

Either way it’s mad that it’s still going on.

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I’d say it’s a fictional separation. He’s some gowl. Sure if he’d played ball he’d be back on his feet and coining it again like the rest of them.

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One of the most ignorant cunts on the face of the earth by all accounts so not surprising.

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A stones of a man and one of the trickiest punters you’d ever come across in the Celtic Tiger which is saying something


The wife is a piece of work too.

An ideal partner in crime.

They’re as skint as they are separated.

Mick Galwey and Ronan O’Gara were at the wedding.



Did Dunne actually make any wise investments? Or just hide behind limited liability?

Didn’t Johnny Ronan buy a few prime properties in London which were given away by Nama for fuck all?

He personally guaranteed it all more or less

He had plenty success before he went bust he developed most of the area in booterstown near raddissson st Helens. Also had massive successful development in Lucian and greystones…all in a rising market mind you…just gambled it all then and blew the whole lot

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He seems to have quite the budget for a lad who “blew the whole lot”