The first witnesses in the Justice Priya Levers tribunal took the stand on Thursday afternoon, each being quizzed on whether they had found the judge to have been biased or unfair.
Among the five witnesses on the first day of the tribunal was a Canadian mother who tearfully testified that the judge had “sneered and looked scornfully” at her while presiding over a custody battle between her and the Caymanian father of her child.
Speaking on a video-conference link up, the mother claimed the judge had made several comments in the custody hearings that made the woman believe Madam Justice Levers was biased against her.
The woman’s lawyer, Philip Boni, testified that over the four days of hearings in 2005, he had the perception that Madam Justice Levers was less than impartial, but he was unable to recall several of the negative comments his client claimed in her statement that the judge had made.
He said he had felt “uncomfortable” that Madam Justice Levers had included allegations of racism on the part of the mother’s family towards the father in her ruling, but Stanley Brodie, QC, acting for Madam Justice Levers, said the judge had merely been addressing a matter brought up by the father in the proceedings.
Mr. Boni responded: “As far as I was concerned, it was immaterial to the matter at hand.”
Asked on what grounds the judge’s behaviour could be deemed anything other than exemplary, Mr. Boni said: “There is nothing I can point to other than perception.”
Mr. Brodie pointed out that Madam Justice Levers had ultimately ruled for joint custody of the child, that the mother be paid $20,000 by the father, as well as $500 a month in child maintenance, while in a later hearing by another judge the father had been given sole custody of the child.
The mother claimed the judge had said she needed to be a better wife and mother, that she understood why the child was so messed up if he had a mother like her, and asked the mother if she expected men to buy her houses.
Asked by Timothy Otty QC, counsel for the tribunal if she remembered any of those statements being made by Madam Justice Levers, the lawyer who represented the father in the case, Linda Da Costa, also said she did not recall the judge making any of those comments.
The child’s mother, who broke down crying twice during the video testimony said she had felt belittled and upset by her experiences in the court with the judge, who she felt had treated her unfairly, insisting that she remembered clearly the comments made by the judge.
Mr. Brodie questioned the mother, whose name cannot be revealed as it may identify the child, on why an email she sent to the Chief Justice to try to lodge a complaint against Madam Justice Levers was entitled “Requested information re: Judge Levers” and asked who had requested the information.
The mother said she had merely been asking what information was needed by the courts to lodge an official complaint, after another Canadian mother who had also appeared before Madam Justice Levers on a custody case, had told her a complaints system existed.
Zena Merren, a lawyer who had appeared before Madam Justice Levers on that case and a number of others that are being examined by the tribunal, also gave evidence. She was unable to recall several of the alleged incidences of Madam Justice Levers’ comments and actions with regard to cases mentioned in statements from witnesses who will be heard from later.
She agreed with Mr. Brodie that Madame Justice Levers was “known to be quite outspoken”.
The last witness of the day was Carol Rouse, a court stenographer, who gave evidence that she had seen the judge roll her eyes, sigh loudly, say “Oh Lord” and make inappropriate facial expressions in response to a witness’s testimony before a jury.
She said she had noticed the judge making those expressions and noises in one particular case after she noticed “noises coming from the jury which I thought were highly inappropriate. I could not understand it as the evidence being put forward was extremely serious and I could not understand why they were laughing and that is why I turned around to look [at the judge].
“I sit with Justice Levers very often and it did not surprise me to see her facial expressions,” she said.
Lawyers in the court for that case have made statements that they did not see Madam Justice Levers acting inappropriately.
In his opening submission, Mr. Brodie had said that former acting Grand Court Justice Dale Sanderson from Canada and senior court reporter Karen Myren, Ms Rouse’s boss, had deliberately set out to destroy Madam Justice Levers’ relationship with Chief Justice Anthony Smellie.
Ms Rouse insisted that her testimony and her assertions that she had often seen Madam Justice Levers act inappropriately before a jury was not part of a conspiracy. She said the judge’s behaviour in court was “something I had never seen before. I have been a court reporter for 15 years now.
“I never dreamed in the beginning it would come to something like this,” she said.
She said she had spoken to her supervisor, Ms Myren, of her concerns over the judge’s behaviour.
The hearing continues Friday.