McIlroy-Horizon battle promises plenty of courtroom drama

It wasn't in the grand setting of James Gandon's Four Courts but in a tiny third floor room nearby that the latest chapter in the Rory McIlroy v Horizon Sports Management drama played out to a handful of court scribes, a quarrel of lawyers and a judge.

Up to 35 people squeezed themselves into the benches of Court 18 to hear Mr Paul Sreenan for Horizon (and others) set out his reasons for asking for forensic examination of electronic devices he alleged were wiped clean by Rory McIlroy, the CEO of Rory McIlroy Inc Donal Casey, by his father Gerry and his tour assistant/Chief of Staff Sean O'Flaherty. For McIlroy and others, Mr Michael Cush SC, explained to the judge (Mr Justice Raymond Fullam) why that shouldn't be allowed to happen. 

It took four hours of court time to get through Day One of the business at hand and one thing emerged quite clearly — a 6-8 week trial with gentlemen such as these asking the questions will be no picnic for anyone concerned.

Just in outlining the background to the case, Mr Sreenan's opening brought home the intricacy of it all by explaining, for instance, how Donal Casey went from being a consultant employed by Horizon to help put in place new contracts for McIlroy following the Chubby Chandler split — Nike was the big one — to CEO of Rory McIlroy Inc last year.

What happened in the months between Mr Casey leaving Horizon on bad terms with Conor Ridge in December 2012 over his commission on the Nike deal and his official re-emergece as the CEO of Rory McIlroy Inc. some nine months later is the subject of much interest on the part of Horizon's lawyers.

Hence the interest in the mobile phones held by the main players on the McIlroy side — Rory, his father Gerry, his assistant and Casey — and the possible WhatsApp, SMS or email conversations that may have taken place between them in the months leading up to the creation of Rory McIlroy Inc and the start of the litigation.

The minutiae of which phones were restored to factory settings by all the parties concerned, which ones ended up in the Jack and Jill recycling bins, or gifted to family members, which ones were broken or lost, was laid out by Mr Sreenan in detail over the course of several hours as he cited affidavits from the parties concerned as well as experts in the field of data forensics.

The Irish Independent and The Irish Times reported the details of the case, especially Mr Sreenan's assertion that "it is beyond dispute, in our submission, that data has been deliberately destroyed" and that it was "incredible" that no back ups had been kept.

This was contested by Mr Cush, who will be back on his feet this morning, who outlined what he said were "seven simple facts that make it clear that Mr McIlroy has done absolutely nothing wrong" before going on to say that it was not unusual for him to have had eight phones between July 2011 and June 2014.

"He liked to have the latest model and he also had the means to acquire them," Mr Cush said. "He also changed his phone on a number of occasion to protect himself from his number becoming known."

He also said there was "nothing unusual in not backing up phones at the time of changing from one to another" but that it would have been unusual if he had not transferred "contacts, music, apps and the like."

"But he did transfer," Mr Cush said. "He did it through the phones settings. Limited data. What he wanted. Contacts. Music.

"There is nothing unusual in having transferred what he wanted, deleting the remaining data on the phone, which he did by resorting the phone to factory settings... because of his anxiety to protect his privacy" and to avoid "unsolicited calls from journalists."

He added that emails were retrieved and discovered where relevant. Two of the eight phones that remain in McIlroy's possession did have data and were subject to a discovery review. The wiping of the phones, Mr Sreenan said, "long predates the proceedings and any controversy in the proceedings", and goes right back to the signing of the initial contract with Horizon in 2011. 

Little wonder that media members from the far side of the world — including sports writers — are planning to descend on the Four Courts when the case goes to trial on February 3. 

Compared to the benign "it is what it is" press conference pronouncements of Tiger et al, the risk of severe and prolonged periods of utter boredom may be worth the promise of fireworks when  the case itself goes to trial. The potential parade of the main characters and the bit part actors in a real world drama is sure to keep the Fourth Estate occupied for some time to come.