Ottawa Citizen

Ex-judge gets house arrest for theft from church fund


A former small claims court judge who pocketed a quarter of a million dollars from the cemetery funds of his Catholic church will spend the next year under house arrest.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Lynn Ratushny said it was only Ronald Houlahan’s decades of good deeds as a respected lawyer, judge, volunteer and family man that spared him from time behind bars for the theft of $250,000 from the St. Patrick’s Fallowfiel­d parish, where he was chair of the cemetery committee for eight years.

Houlahan’s work within the church and legal community “placed you in a position of grace. You were trusted to do the right thing and be scrupulous­ly careful. You were not,” said Ratushny before sentencing Houlahan Friday.

“For the majority of your life, Mr. Houlahan, you have been a good person, a dedicated family man, a hard worker, a generous volunteer who allowed himself to forget that the cemetery funds were not his to handle as he wished,” Ratushny told the 76-year-old.

“It’s undeniable that you should have known better.”

Houlahan’s lawyer Patrick McCann said his client and his wife didn’t lead a lavish lifestyle with the money; it instead was “frittered away” propping up his struggling legal practice, McCann said. Court previously heard Houlahan spent the money to pay expenses, such as bills for his law office phone, secretaria­l services, insurance, cellphone, cable and credit cards.

McCann said — and the judge accepted — that Houlahan always intended to straighten out the bank accounts and pay the money back, although it never happened.

According to McCann, his client simply became overwhelme­d by all his obligation­s.

McCann said Houlahan has already provided him with $70,000; there is a restitutio­n order for another $103,695, representi­ng the amount that would have been collected for the maintenanc­e of the purchased cemetery plots.

Assistant Crown attorney John Semenoff said a breach of trust such as Houlahan’s usually demands jail time.

Semenoff suggested a jail sentence of 12 to 15 months would be appropriat­e, but acknowledg­ed Houlahan’s lifetime of good work could be recognized as the extraordin­ary circumstan­ces necessary to justify a conditiona­l sentence that could be served in the community.

A contrite Houlahan apologized in court to his fellow parishione­rs, the priest who appointed him to the position, the other members of the cemetery committee, his family and to other lawyers and judges for the shame and embarrassm­ent he has caused.

Houlahan, a lawyer for 49 years, has since had his licence to practise law suspended. It’s unlikely he’ll ever get it back, McCann said.

Ratushny gave Houlahan a conditiona­l sentence of two years less a day, with conditions he spend the first year under house arrest.

During the second 12 months, Houlahan must complete 150 hours of community service. Once the conditiona­l sentence is completed, Houlahan will remain on probation for another year.

 ?? ERROL McGIHON ?? Ronald Houlahan exits the Ottawa Courthouse following his sentencing on Friday.
ERROL McGIHON Ronald Houlahan exits the Ottawa Courthouse following his sentencing on Friday.

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