A solicitor appealing the termination of her wrongful dismissal case has clashed with a High Court judge after being told her challenge was “not a case of public interest”.
A heated argument broke out here when Ammi Burke spoke repeatedly about Ms. Judge Marguerite Bolger, asking the judge to “withdraw the statement”.
The judge eventually ended the hearing, which was held online, by signing off after warning Ms Burke multiple times not to interrupt and question her again.
At one point, a visibly upset Ms. Justice Bolger said, “Ms. Burke, you are a qualified attorney. You know that after a decision has been made and reasoned, it is not appropriate to repeatedly ask a judge the question you are asking.
“I said what I said and I explained why I said what I said. The fact that you do not like this explanation does not allow you to repeatedly ask the same question.”
The extraordinary clash comes after Ms Burke received permission from the judge to challenge various decisions made by Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) decision officer Kevin Baneham, who dropped her wrongful dismissal lawsuit against leading law firm Arthur Cox last April.
Mr Baneham ended the WRC hearing and dismissed the claim after “continued and willful obstruction and interference” by the solicitor’s mother, Martina Burke.
At the time, the employment law case attracted considerable attention due to repeated objections and heckling.
Ms Burke was fired from the law firm in 2019 and has not been able to find legal employment since. Arthur Cox has denied the sacking was unfair.
Ms Justice Bolger gave Ms Burke permission to start a judicial review process challenging the termination of the wrongful dismissal claim and said counsel had shown she had a justifiable case.
The judge also allowed her to challenge other of Mr Baneham’s decisions, including his refusal to subpoena two witnesses, Arthur Cox partner Kevin Lynch and HR director Ruth D’Alton, and his refusal to request the production of certain emails.
However, Ms Judge Bolger said she would not grant Ms Burke a leave of absence in relation to a specific request for clarification on the application of the law relating to the summoning of witnesses to WRC hearings.
The judge said if the court asked for an explanation on this issue, it had to be specific. She said what Ms Burke was looking for was “too vague and generalized”.
“As you know, your judicial review process is not about seeking legal advice from the High Court. You are asking the court to grant you a remedy that specifically relates to your wrongful dismissal claim. This is not a case of public interest, class action or anything like that,” said Ms. Justice Bolger.
Ms Burke took offense at the judge’s remark, insisting that her trial was “a matter of public interest” because the issues to be resolved were “obviously of general public concern”.
The lawyer, who was representing herself, asked the judge if she denied that her case raised issues of general public interest.
Ms Judge Bolger responded that she “would not be attending a question-and-answer session” as she had already made her decision and laid out the basis for it.
But Ms Burke persisted, saying she was “deeply concerned” that the judge would say her trial was “not a case of public interest” and she could not ask questions about the general application of the law.
She said the judge’s comment was “wrong”.
“I would like you to formally retract this statement that this is not in the public interest, please,” Ms. Burke said.
“I’m doing a public service by bringing this. Many practitioners have questions about the operation of these sections and have for years.”
The judge replied, “Ms. Burke, I am no longer involved. I have made my decision.”
However, the lawyer again asked the judge to “withdraw the testimony”.
After the attorney intervened again, the judge said, “Well, Ms. Burke, you must stop interrupting me. Do you understand that? I have made a decision.”
But the argument continued, with Ms Burke repeatedly speaking out about the judge and asking for the “public interest” observation to be withdrawn. She said the remark could have implications for legal costs if the case is decided.
Ms Burke also insisted the issue she raised would have implications for other people dealing with WRC cases.
Ms Justice Bolger said: “Ms Burke, if you do not like my decision, you can appeal.”
The exchange lasted about 15 minutes and only ended when the judge exited the online court.
“I will end this hearing. I have given you ample opportunity to make any other requests you wish. Instead, you have chosen to repeatedly ask me to change a decision already made, which I find highly inappropriate,” she said.
Ms Burke continued to urge Ms Justice Bolger to withdraw the comment, only to be told by the registrar that the judge had opted out.
The lawyer claimed she was wrongly fired in November 2019 for criticizing one of Arthur Cox’s partners after she had to work until 2am while colleagues were away. She had worked as a junior associate in the firm’s banking and finance department.
Arthur Cox denied that she was wrongly fired, arguing that her relationship with three senior partners had broken down. WRC was told that, among other things, Ms Burke was ‘trying’ on a partner, Gráinne Hennessy.
Ms Burke was also heard to criticize another partner, Kevin Lynch, as he congratulated her on closing a deal. She reportedly told him that she “wouldn’t have had to work so late on this transaction if his team had done their job.”
The case is the second time Ms Burke has sued the WRC over the handling of her case.
A previous WRC hearing was abandoned by another decision-maker, Marie Flynn, in May last year after the Supreme Court ruled that decision-makers’ inability to require evidence under oath was unconstitutional.
Ms Burke unsuccessfully appealed that decision, arguing that her case should have been adjourned rather than having to start again once legislation allowing evidence under oath was in place.
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/courts/judge-logs-off-online-court-hearing-after-numerous-interruptions-by-solicitor-ammi-burke-41866167.html Judge logs out of online court hearing after numerous interruptions by attorney Ammi Burke