Stenographer paints “terrible” picture of court

| 10/05/2009

(CNS): The third day’s proceedings in the Justice Priya Levers tribunal opened with the examination of a witness statement submitted by stenographer Karen Myren, the senior court reporter in the Judicial Administration who in a memo to Chief Justice Anthony Smellie in March 2007 described Levers’ court as an upsetting and traumatising place where bullying and injustice were common. Stanley Brodie QC (left) said she was painting a terrible picture of Justice Levers to deliberately vilify her as part of a conspiracy.

Going through her statements regarding the transcripts which were sent to Smellie along with the explanatory letter of her complaints about Justice Levers’ behaviour in court, Timothy Otty QC for the tribunal asked Myren various questions regarding the submissions canvassed against her statement by Brodie on behalf of Justice Levers. Otty asked her if she had read the submissions that accused her of conspiring with court colleague Carol Rouse to influence the Chief Justice against Justice Levers and maliciously undermine her relationship with him.

Myren said she had and was “surprised it was worded that wa,y as I was not involved in a conspiracy.” She said she would not have done that because she admired the Chief Justice and understood he had a good relationship with Justice Levers, so undermining her would undermine him.

Taking up the questioning, Brodie however pointed to the seriousness of the language that Myren had used in her letter to the chief justice and noted that it was not the kind of description designed to praise. In the letter enclosed with the transcripts, he said, Myren had written that they could not convey the overwhelming atmosphere in the court of women being insulted, castigated and demeaned, the unpleasant and unfair environment and the fact that people were traumatized by the experience.

“This paints a picture of a terrible judge,” he said. “Yes,” Myren replied. Brodie pointed out the seriousness of the accusations made in the letter and read how she accused the judge of bullying counsel, hurrying on proceedings, of prejudice saying she was biased in favour of defendants and dealt out injustice all the time, that justice was rarely seen to be done and that people had gone away having lost trust with the judicial process. He then asked her what sort of view she expected the chief justice to take as it was hardly complimentary. Myren replied that it was designed to show him what was taking place in the court room that he was not aware of. 

Brodie went on to cite what he said was serious and extreme language deliberately designed to vilify Justice Levers in the eyes of the chief justice. Myren insisted that being in Levers’ court was upsetting, that it was making people ill and she felt it was her duty to tell the chief justice. Brodie queried why the reporter had take over four years to bring her concerns, and Myren said it was because the justice was ill, then came Ivan and then she was working in another court for a long trial, so she said she didn’t bother.

Brodie asked if she had read the numerous submissions that gave a very contrary view to hers and she said she had. Myren said that Justice Levers was always nice to experienced counsel and she behaved herself in front of people she respected. Brodie suggested that if she was behaving in such a fiendish manner it was surprising no one else complained.

Myren said there were others that complained but the lawyers were too scared to put their complaints in writing. Brodie pointed out that the Cayman Islands Law Society was where members of the legal profession would go to make a complaint about a judge but that had never happened.  He asked her if she felt that Justice Levers appeared happier when dealing with competent counsel than when with incompetent. Myren then said it was unfair to describe inexperienced and less bold counsel as incompetent.

Taking one example of her complaints and what she considered inappropriate language, Brodie asked her about the use of the term “vegetable” by Justice Levers in court, and Myren said she was offended by it. However, Brodie noted that in this case counsel in the form of respected QC Ramon Alberga and a doctor had all used the term. Moreover, the family of the concerned victim had not complained about the use of the term either as it was used in context to describe a vegetative state, Brodie said, adding that Myren seemed to be the only person there who objected to its use. He asked if she was also criticizing Alberga but Myren replied that the offensive term was just one of many.

During the questioning Brodie also established that Myren had an informal relationship with Justice Sanderson, a former visiting judge of Cayman’s Grand Court, outside the courtroom, someone with whom Justice Levers also believes set out to undermine her relationship with the chief justice. (It is understood that the reasons for this will be revealed later in the tribunal.)

During questioning Myren said she played tennis with Justice Sanderson and often had coffee with him. Brodie asked if she had discussed her concerns about Justice Levers and she said she had, and it became clear that Sanderson had advised her not to make a complaint about the judge as it was a matter for the parties involved and not the court staff. However, Brodie noted that against his advice she had still taken her complaints to the Chief justice Smellie. “He was saying that to protect us so we wouldn’t be in this situation,” she said, adding that despite Sanderson’s advice it was weighing on her conscience heavily and she couldn’t stand it any more, so she went to the chief justice.

Brodie asked why Myren had not asked Sanderson to make the complaint, and she explained that he wasn’t in court seeing it but he knew about the behaviour and if he had wanted to complain she felt he would have done that. Brodie queried the fact that she believed Sanderson was aware of Lever’s behaviour but not the Chief Justice.

Brodie then discussed with Myren her stated position that she felt it was her responsibility to report to Chief Justice Smellie the behaviour of judges she regarded as unacceptable, something to which Myren agreed. “So if Justice Levers ceased to sit and was replaced by another judge you would still regard it as your responsibility to report that judge if they were guilty of what you saw as unacceptable behaviour as well?” he asked.  Myren answered: “Yes, if after few years they displayed the same such behaviour I would.”

Brodie then noted that the chief justice had himself been of the viewthat court staff could be useful guages on how judges manage the court, so he questioned what Myren would do if the chief justice’s behaviour was unacceptable and who would she would complain to then?

“If he was doing what Justice Levers was doing I would go to another judge,” she said. Brodie noted that given that situation all future judges in the jurisdiction needed to be told they will be subject to the scrutiny of court reporters.

Following further questioning over how she had gone about making her complaints, Brodie suggested she had it in for Justice Levers and her actions were unjustified but calculated to undermine the judge.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Re some people are not willing to suffer fools –  unfortunately as a judge it is the job to deal with everyone fairly, impartially and without emotion.  To listen to to the evidence and apply the law – that is the rule of law and to do anything to usurp the rule of law fails society to whom they owe a heavy duty having accepted the mantle of judicial responsibility.  This is a generally held believe amongst jurisprudentialists and not any particular comment about any specific judge but in the current context of this debate it is worthy bearing in mind.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thanks CNS. Fascinating stuff. Cayman will never be the same again. We have entered the real world where issues are aired in public. It began with the Clifford Enquiry-a much more minor affair, though important. This one will bring humungous changes to attitudes in the legal world. Thank God.

  3. Anonymous says:

    As a judge’s child, I understood that a judgemust be fair, honest and unbiased. Period.

  4. Anonymous says:

    The opening of the judicial process to the scrutiny of the legal process is a good thing regardless of the outcome of this particular case.

  5. Nicky Watson says:

    CNS will be following the tribunal carefully. However, while it is taking place, we will not be posting comments on the participants or what was said or predictions about the outcome.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Some people are not willing to suffer fools.