A court reporter appearing before the Justice Priya Levers tribunal said she is ‘disappointed but not surprised’ more of Cayman’s attorneys have not come forward with complaints about the judge.
‘It’s a small jurisdiction,’ said court reporter Carol Rouse, appearing as the first witness on the second day of the tribunal at the Marriott Beach Resort.
Attorneys told her they were shocked by Justice Levers’ court-room conduct but wouldn’t risk their reputation by complaining, she said.
‘They would say ‘you have to think about your future clients’.’
Ms Rouse’s comments came as the tribunal heard more statements from attorneys claiming not to recall key courtroom incidents that witnesses and court reporters have described.
One of those incidents involved a case in which Justice Levers is accused of disparaging a woman that almost died after being assaulted by her then partner with a bike pump. Justice Levers gave the man ten years jail.
The tribunal heard that when the judge heard the Jamaican victim was applying for Caymanian Status, she replied ‘how do I object to that?’ Ms Rouse felt the judge was inferring the woman ‘brought it upon herself’.
Justice Levers had also replied to news the victim was in a new relationship by saying the woman was ‘spreading her goodwill around’.
‘I had never seen anything like it in my life,’ Ms Rouse said, adding she had worked with about 50 judges in her career and had never complained about one until now.
Stanley Brodie QC, for Justice Levers, put it to Ms Rouse that the judge was merely trying to ascertain some background information about the victim to inform her decision – something Ms Rouse would not understand because she is not a judge, Mr. Brodie said.
‘Are you legally qualified? Are you a lawyer? Are you a judge?’ Mr. Brodie asked. Ms Rouse said she was not.
‘Yet you regard yourself qualified to pass judgement on judges?’ Mr Brodie scolded her.
‘I consider myself qualified to have an opinion on whether certain things are appropriate,’ Ms Rouse retorted.
Mr. Brodie countered claims before the tribunal that Justice Levers was biased against females appearing in her court, pointing to a case in which the judge seemed to favour a young mother that was facing a ten year jail term over a gun charge. A jury ultimately acquitted the woman.
‘Don’t you consider it a humane thing for a judge to do when she sees that situation; to look to see whether there are ways and means to ensure the prosecution cannot succeed?’ Mr. Brodie asked.
While Ms Rouse said she was glad the young girl didn’t go to jail, she added: ‘I just expect the judge to come in and listen to the evidence and be neutral and make her decision based on the law.”
During her appearance, Ms Rouse painted a picture of a harrowing work environment in which court reporters would discuss Justice Levers’ mood before going into court, so they knew what they were in for.
She also explained why the reporters ultimately decided to approach Chief Justice Anthony Smellie with their complaints about the judge.
‘We asked ‘how can it happen?’ – ‘How can the judge treat people this way?’ Eventually it became too much for us.’
One attorney that has brought complaints about the judge before the tribunal is Elizabeth Lees, who was the Crown Counsel in the domestic abuse case.
She said the woman’s application for Caymanian status had been ‘completely irrelevant’ to the proceedings and described the judge’s comments as ‘offensive’, but she agreed that any bias the judge may have had against the woman did not affect the sentence she ultimately passed.
Counsel assisting the tribunal, Timothy Otty QC, also asked Ms Lees about comments Justice Levers made against the defendant in the case, which has been brought forward as evidence of the judge’s claimed racial bias against Jamaicans.
In an exchange during the case, Justice Levers had said to Ms Lees that ‘they don’t make anything of themselves’ and ‘they don’t integrate into the community’ adding ‘they send all their money home’, and ‘bring their violence with them’.
‘This is why we leave Jamaica – to escape the violence,’ said the judge, who is married to a Jamaican and worked there for over 30 years.
In a 2007 letter to the Chief Justice explaining the comments, Justice Levers said by ‘they’, she was referring to criminals generally.
‘I say this because criminals tend not to respect the laws of the countries they are visiting,’ the judge had said. ‘If it had been of another nationality I would have said the same thing.’
But Ms Lees said she thought the comments must be indicative of the judge’s bias against Jamaicans because they weren’t relevant to anything else.
Ms Lees was also asked about the case with the young mother facing the firearms charge.
She had asked Justice Levers to step down from the case after the judge revealed she had visited the crime scene in a lunch break during the trial.
‘I have never heard of a judge going to a scene on her own and not informing anyone,’ Ms Lees said, explaining that she discussed the revelation with Attorney General Samuel Bulgin, who supported the application that the judge take herself off the case, but which Justice Levers rejected.
Women claim bias
Also appearing on day two were four women in family court cases who have complained to the tribunal about the way the judge treated them. The women cannot be named for legal reasons.
The first woman said Justice Levers made derogatory remarks about her being pregnant, about her continuing educational pursuits and had asked her if she ‘knew the Bible’ when she swore her oath.
However the tribunal heard that in a statement, the woman’s attorney, Stacy Parke, has said she doesn’t recall those statements, adding that although the case was hotly contested by both sides, she felt she was given a proper opportunity to address the issues.
But her client said: ‘As close as she was sitting to me should would have had to have heard – the whole courtroom was silent.’ The judge doesn’t contest what was said, but maintains the exchanges were civil and light-hearted.
Another witness appearing Friday – a Filipino domestic abuse victim in divorce proceedings – said she came forward to complain about the judge after reading newspaper reports about the tribunal.
‘I said to myself, ‘I want to give a statement just to express what I experienced in the court so other people can’t experience what I experienced’.”
She said the judge had made comments about her ‘marrying off’ her Filipino siblings to Caymanians and had said ‘why don’t you just go back to the Philippines’ when she had appeared in court asking for 50 per cent of the matrimonial home. The judge granted her 40 per cent.
Anthony Akiwumi, for Justice Levers, denied the judge ever made the comments, pointing out the woman’s complaint came almost two years after the court case.
‘I cannot remember the words that she used but the effect of what she said was that I was robbing [the husband] of his money,’ the woman said.
In a statement, Margeta Facey-Clarke, who represented the husband, said she had no recollection of the hearing and no notes of it.
Two mothers who appeared before Justice Levers in Family Court complained of her behaviour and attitude towards them.
One mother who had been contesting her ex-husband’s plan to send their child to boarding school abroad said she felt the judge had been insensitive, had repeatedly turned her back on her and had not taken her opinions into account.
The tribunal heard that Justice Levers also handed the woman a shawl to cover her legs because her skirt was above her knees when she sat down. In her statement, the woman said: ‘The way this was done was to imply I was offending her and was flaunting myself in an obscene way’.
The woman’s lawyer, David McGrath, said he recalled the judge giving his client a shawl to cover her legs, but said he had not seen her deliberately turn her back on the woman, saying the layout of the judge’s chambers meant her back was to clients while she took notes.
He said he did not recall the judge telling the mother her son would have to learn to deal with bullying, a concern the mother had addressed in her objections to the child attending boarding school.
Another ex-patriate mother, married to a Caymanian, told the tribunal Justice Levers had said to her: ‘That’s what you get for marrying a black man,’ when the woman complained of her ex-husband leaving her and her sick child at home alone at night, without a car or phone.
Mr Akiwumi suggested that the judge had been referring to Caribbean men’s penchant for playing dominos and going to bars on Friday nights.
The woman, who had been on anti-depressants, also claimed that the judge made a slashing motion over her wrists, an action that the woman’s lawyer, Zena Merren, said she did not see occur.
When Mr. Akiwumi suggested that this had not happened, the woman responded: ‘No, sir, I know it happened. I am not lying. If I had a camera in that room, we would see that it happened.’
The hearing continues Saturday.