Webb evidence in question

| 16/05/2009

(CNS): The accusation by Elizabeth Webb that Justice Priya Levers had written the infamous ‘Leticia Barton letter’ to Cayman Net News became a key factor during this morning’s hearing when even Timothy Otty, the tribunal’s QC, conceded that Webb’s evidence was contentious. During Justice Levers’ second day on the witness stand the credibility of her former secretary’s evidence was challenged by Levers’ counsel, Stanley Brodie QC, when he noted that were this a criminal proceeding the evidence would have been thrown out, and as a result Otty should not question her on it.

Following some two hours of questioning regarding the hearsay evidence against Levers by some court house staff that she was openly critical of other judges, including Chief Justice Anthony Smellie, Otty turned to the question of the authorship of the letters and told the tribunal that Brodie had raised some concerns.

“Mr Brodie has mentioned that, in light of the evidence, it might be improper to ask any questions about the letter and to put to Justice Levers Ms Webb’s allegations,” said Otty. He explained that what he had wanted to do was raise the apparent coincidence of the views attributed to her by some witnesses and the content of the Leticia Barton letter. He then proposed to get her to reflect on the alleged evidence of this and pointed out that if the tribunal were to consider this evidence as true, in turn Justice Levers’ evidence could not, therefore, be true, illustrating the seriousness of this allegation and the importance of the veracity of the witnesses statement.

Brodie told the tribunal that it seemed to him “so hopelessly unsupported by evidence – indeed the evidence is all to the contrary – that I would have thought it would be improper to make a positive case of that sort to Madam Justice Levers,” he said. Brodie explained that if these were criminal proceedings the Crown would have been forced to discount such evidence. He went on to observe that it was a serious allegation if it were true, but the case would have to be overwhelming. He added that as any questioning of the judge on the matter would impact his closing statement, he would like to know the tribunal’s position on Webb’s statement.

Otty made the case that the goal of the tribunal proceedings was to make inquiry and that no observer, no matter how ill-informed, should be allowed to think anything important was overlooked. Following a few minutes consideration, the tribunal decide to hear Otty’s questions on the letter and Otty then asked Levers her position on each of the points raised in it.

The letter opens with a quote from Lord Bingham and he asked Levers if she was familiar with it at the time, to which she said she was not. Levers then went on to deny that she agreed with the letter and pointed out that where it stated the judiciary was a laughing stock, she herself was a part of that judiciary and hoped to be again. She denied every point put to her by Otty and even noted that the criticisms about judicial entertainment expenses on overseas trips in the letter were probably pointed at her as at the time the chief justice had sent her to London.

Otty then asked, given the evidence of Webb about seeing the letter on Justice Levers’ desk, whether the judge had written it. “I did not write such a letter, I did not call my son or try to give it to Ms Webb to scan,” she said. “I had nothing to do with it.” Again she drew attention to the fact that the criticisms in it would have included her as well as she was still part of the judiciary and she would not write about the judiciary or herself that way.

During the morning’s questioning Otty had probed Levers on courtroom hearsay that she supposedly held beliefs similar to those set out in the letter. However, on each occasions Levers offered a viable alternative to the hearsay accusations or had corroborating evidence for her denials of the alleged conversations taking place. Her private jottings of the day-to-day goings on in and around the court were also put to her as accusations that she harboured resentment or was plotting against the chief justice. She persisted that until her suspension she had no ill-feeling towards anyone at the court and believed she had a cordial relationship with most of them and a very good one with the chief justice. Aside from her fears of Sanderson, which she has noted on a number of occasions, the judge said the hearsay was unfounded.

Her alleged hatred of Canadian staff was undermined when she noted that she had no idea until much later that it was the Canadian court reporters who had gone to the chief justice with the transcripts, and Brodie read out a letter she had written to the chief justice highly commending Valdis Foldats, the Canadian clerk of court, for his work in mid 2007. She noted too that she liked Justice Alex Henderson, but admitted she had criticized the judges for drinking coffee and smoking on the street.

Hearsay accusations from court staff that she had complained about the appointment of Catherine Chesnut to the position of research analyst when she was allegedly not qualified were also brought into doubt when Levers revealed her role in the appointment and that is was she who had sent the request to the civil service for the exemption from advertising the position.

As the morning wore on it was made very clear by both sides that the veracity of Webb’s statement was crucial to the entire proceedings. It was brought into further question when Otty rasied the issue with Justice Levers over the allegations of psychic readings. He asked her who exactly was the card reader who had been referred to by Webb as "Mrs Denno" in Webb’s statement.

Have you ever met or known anyone called Mrs Denno?” he asked. Justice Levers then told him that she had a relationship with a Mrs Denno who had no family and was in and old age home in Jamaica. She explained she would visit her and take her food. Levers than recalled how the lady would say things such as, "God bless you. You’ll get a bag of grapefruit tomorrow morning from Mandeville." 

Levers then said, “One day, she said to me when I visited her in Jamaica, she was ill, and I went especially to Jamaica to visit her — I still maintained her until she was sick — and she said to me, ‘You have kidney problems, that is why you have to go back for dialysis,’ I said, ‘Yes.’  She said, ‘Somebody with a red car is going to give you a kidney.’ So I said to Elizabeth Webb when I came back, if none of my children are a suitable match, I am going to let you stand by the window and the first red car you see you are going to run down and stop that and ask the man or woman if they will give me the kidney — and that was the extent of my conversation as far as getting kidneys from red cars were concerned,” she related, to considerable amusement in the room.

Otty then declared he had no further questions on that matter. After finishing his questions regarding the Leticia Barton letter he handed over to Brodie, who merely clarified a few issues with Justice Levers regarding the jottings in her private notebook, which had been submitted in evidence against her but which had been altered by Webb before she took them to the chief justice. He drew Levers’ attention to the note saying,  "Betsy rude to me – stop talking."

What was that about?" he asked. Levers said she thought it was the time when she was dismissive, so she had written it down.  I think that we know that the next two lines were inserted into the document by Mrs Webb,” Brodie added making it clear that Webb had chosen to change the appearance of the note before she sent it on to the chief justice.

Can you think of any reason why?” Brodie asked inquiring if the judge had authorised Webb to make alterations to her notebook. “No, sir, I did not,” Levers said.

The tribunal was then adjourned until Monday morning, when both Otty and Brodie are expected to offer their final submissions.

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