Court house divide emerges

| 12/05/2009

(CNS): Both Stanley Brodie QC and Anthony Akiwumi kept up the pressure on court staff today, the fourth day of Justice Priya Levers’ tribunal, as they sought to raise doubts about the full truth ofthe statements they had made against the Judge. Offering possible alternative motivations and exposing inconsistency in the statements of court house witnesses, her legal representatives also revealed divisions among the court staff as they presented contrary statements from other members of the judicial administration.

The day’s proceedings (11 May) began with Elizabeth Webb, who returned to the stand and faced further questions and challenges from Brodie. He questioned Webb again over details and dates regarding the Leticia Barton letter to Cayman Net News and various inconsistencies and differences across the statements she had given on the issue at different times. Brodie also raised the issue that Levers had begun to have concerns with her work. He asked how it made her feel and she admitted she had been upset. Brodie then suggested that she may have had an ulterior motive for making accusations against Levers.

Brodie then challenged Webb’s statement that Levers had made her send a copy of Justice Dale Sanderson’s expenses to an attorney outside the court via email. He pointed to the fact that the attorney in question had denied ever receiving such an email and that Webb herself was unable to produce the original email but, instead, one that she had forwarded to herself. “This is how it looks now but it wasn’t like that,” Webb said, adding that she had forwarded it to herself from an old address but there had been an original one which she insisted was sent to the attorney despite the denial.

He than moved on to the accusations that she had seen a marshall in the court, Eric Geenidge, hand Justice Levers a copy of a petition going round the court house from some members of the staff dissatisfied with the way the chief justice was managing things. Webb said she had seen the petition later in the day in the justice’s garbage. Brodie, however, pointed out that Geenidge had testified that he had handed Levers a document that day but the envelop contained his pay slips as he had some queries over his pension, which Levers had addressed for him with the people in pay-roll.

“I saw the petition in the garbage and I saw him give her a document, so when I saw the marshalls’ envelop and the petition in the garbage I thought he had given her it,” Webb said. Brodie then noted there was a statement submitted to the tribunal signed by 13 witnesses that Levers had nothing to do with the petition and suggested that her evidence was both untruthful and unreliable.

As the morning moved on, Brodie questioned more staff from the courts and it became apparent that there were certainly differing views among those in the court over Levers’ responsibility for the series of critical letters in Net News, criticisms of other judges and her behaviour in the court room. He cited contrary witness statements from some court staff countering the allegations and began to reveal divisions among the staff itself across the court house.

Questioning Patricia Palmer, the chief justice’s secretary, who had also told him she suspected Justice Levers was the author of the Net News letters, Brodie asked if her view on that was speculative and she said it was. However, she said the reason she suspected that Levers could be the author was because the content of the Leticia Barton letter appeared to be very similar to opinions Justice Levers had shared with her during a conversation in her chambers. She also noted, however, that the chief justice had dismissed her suspicions when she shared them with him as he believed the author was someone else.

Lorraine Hennie, who became Levers’ secretary after Webb moved to another part of the judicial administration, who was the third witness of the day, recalled incidences where Levers had spoken ill of other members of the judiciary. She told the tribunal that the judge had tried to draw her into critical conversations about Justices Alex Henderson and Sanderson as well as the chief justice and accused her of being involved with the petition.

Hennie related an incident during her interview for the post as secretary to Levers where, she said, the judge had inferred a critical issue of the CJ without directly naming him. However, the other staff members from the court house on the interview panel at the time had submitted statements contrary to Hennie’s position, which Akiwumi probed her on. Hennie remained adamant that the justice had asked her awkward questions regarding the CJ, whom she had worked for in the past.

Hennie had also accused Levers of hosting favoured attorneys in her chambers without the opposing counsel present to discuss cases, despite the fact that the door was closed and the accusations was denied by the attorney she said was involved. Hennie then became angry when Akiwumi quizzed her about why she left the chief justice’s employ, as he suggested that she had told people she was unhappy. Hennie accused Akiwumi of being rude to her and said she left for personal reasons following Hurricane Ivan. It was also revealed that in her role as Levers’ secretary she too had breached the justice’s confidentiality.

In the afternoon, the tribunal heard video evidence from a former Canadian plaintiff who had been unhappy with a Levers ruling in family court but had also said that the justice was disparaging towards her. What disparaging remarks were made were not stated, but the witness said she had discussed the complaint with Sanderson. She acknowledged that a judge in Canada had upheld Levers’ ruling and she had never followed through with an appeal for reasons of cost. The question over whether the witness was upset with the justice’s behaviour towards her or the result of the ruling remained.

Lorna Allen, a clerk in Levers’ court on a daily basis, then took the stand and presented a very different picture of her court. She disputed the description of it as a bullying and traumatizing experience offered in earlier statements by Carol Rouse and Karen Myren. She said Levers had been kind to her on many occasions and counselled her when she suffered from bouts of depression.

Allen said the laughter Rouse had referred to in Levers’ court was because of a juror falling asleep and snorting, which was rather unusual for the court room, but she had never seen Justice Levers laughing at witnesses. She also related an occasion when she said Levers had “uncharacteristically snapped” at her in court but she had apologised in front of the court and later privately. As a result of that she confirmed that Rouse had asked her to make a complaint but she said she did not. Allen said she had not heard Levers criticize other judges or make any of the accusations contained in the Leticia Barton letter.

Yasmin Ebanks, the listings officer, however did refer to Levers speaking ill of her judicial colleagues and said she too suspected Levers of writing the letters to Net News as a result of the information she received from Webb, including the incident relating to the suspected Leticia Barton letter. Although when questioned Ebanks could not define how she was convinced by Webb given the limited information, but she said she had no reason to doubt her friend. Going through her statements she also recalled a time when the judge had called her when she was out shopping. Levers asked her if she wassitting down because she had something shocking to reveal, “She told me that Henderson and his wife were …..” at which point Ebanks was silenced by Otty.

The afternoon concluded with a number of housekeeping matters which concerned the possible appearance of Justice Sanderson before the tribunal. Exchanges between the attorneys alluding to statements before the tribunal judges made it evident that the legal teams representing the tribunal itself and those representing the judicial administration would not be happy to see him appear and even less happy for him to be questioned on the issues Brodie had raised. However, Brodie pushed for Sanderson’s appearance as he said it was necessary for him to question him as the accusations of rumour made against Levers involved Sanderson.

Sir Andrew Leggatt, the tribunal chair, said that he would confer with tribunal members Sir Philip Otton and Sir David Simmons and offer his ruling tomorrow (Tuesday 12 May).

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Why is that people in this island who stand up for Caymanians are always targeted  i have not heard one question called into this judge’s judgements. However the level of Cloak and dagger stuff is almost Patricia Cornwall’s suspense thriller material. This type of behaviour reflects badly on those concerned.

  2. Anonymous says:

    While the investigation of any actual or perceived judical impropriety is most welcome, it is quite disturbing that significant public funds are being expended to delve into courts office politics and petty, personal grievances while a number of persons charged with heinous murders within the last year await formal trials and families of victiims have no closure to their grieving.  I would say our priorities are a bit skewed.


    Leticia Barton.


  3. Annoymous says:

    yeah now we know why the Court house cases are always backed up or put off because the entire staff spends their time deeply involved in office politics.

    for every case they put off without a reasonable excuse they should have to be paid according to how quickly the processes cases.  Say a percentage basis is what their salaries should be based on.  I bet they will have no backlogs, and all cases would be dealt with quickly and efficently if they knew their pay cheque depended on it.


    • SIMONSAYS says:

      In response to the author who speaks about the Court staff being involved with office politics and delaying the court cases.

      Just to clarify the matter for you; It is rarely an occassion that a case is postponed because the court staff or any Judge so I guess their salaries would be very low for the wrong reasons.

      Most often it is the Crown Counsel or defence counsel making those applications for one reason or the other.  Ironically, it seems that is exactly the reason why Justice Levers is in the predicament that she is in now;  trying to stick up for those victims and families by being firm with Counsel.  She regularly tried to ensure that each defendant was given a fair trial (innocent until proven guilty) and also sought to have matters heard expeditiously so that the families of the victims would have some sort of closure. 

      Should she be penalized for that?



  4. 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.

  5. Big Al says:

    This could be a hilarious comedy if it wasn’t such a serious matter. Unbelievable the things that are being revealed! My God and this is amongst professional people who have influenced the direction of people’s lives. God help us all.