Chief magistrate: ‘She trashed me’

Chief Magistrate Margaret Ramsey-Hale testified Tuesday in the Justice Priya Levers Tribunal that the judge had bad-mouthed and maliciously gossiped about her to court staff.

chief magistrate

Chief Magistrate Margaret Ramsey-Hale. Photo: File

Ms Ramsey-Hale said she had heard from a variety of people over the years that Mrs. Levers had made disparaging comments about her, personally and professionally, but when she pressed them for details, none were willing to give her specifics.

The tribunal heard that Mrs. Levers had recommended Ms Ramsey-Hale for a position in the Supreme Court in Jamaica, despite repeatedly making derogatory remarks about the magistrate to court staff.

Stanley Brodie QC, representing Mrs. Levers, asked why, if the judge had such a low opinion of her, would she had recommended Ms Ramsey-Hale for a position in the Jamaican Supreme Court, to create a Family Court – a post the magistrate said she would have been happy to take.

‘I don’t know why she would recommend me to the Supreme Court in Jamaica when she trashed me in every corner of the courthouse,’ the chief magistrate said.

Ms Ramsey-Hale said in her statement to the tribunal that Mrs. Levers discussed people behind their backs, including fellow judges, while visiting the magistrate in her office.

Asked if Mrs. Levers had remarked on the Chief Justice Anthony Smellie, Ms Ramsey-Hale said not in her early years of tenure, but she had begun talking about him around mid-2007.

She said that Mrs. Levers had been very upset at the time and threatened to resign as she ‘ranted to me about the chief justice at great length’, adding that she later discovered that this may have coincided with a letter from the chief justice criticising Mrs. Levers.

She said that Mrs. Levers had also made pejorative passing remarks about visiting Canadian judge Dale Sanderson and Grand Court Judge Alexander Henderson.

The court heard that Lorraine Hennie, Mrs. Levers’ secretary, had come to Ms Ramsey-Hale upset about comments the judge had made about the magistrate and about the courts’ legal research analyst, Catherine Chesnut.

Ms Ramsey-Hale said such rumours were easy to allege against a professional woman and how she might have attained her position.

‘I felt the hurt very keenly, even now,’ she said.

The allegations were not stated aloud in the tribunal, as the lawyers were at pains to avoid the rumours and assertions in various witness statements coming into the public domain.

Efforts by Mr. Brodie not to mention some of the allegations against her were brushed aside by Ms Ramsey-Hale, who said they referred to her playing dominos and drinking at Sunset House.

‘That is not rumour. It is true that I used to have drinks and play dominos in public,’ she said, adding, however, that she no longer does.

Ms Ramsey-Hale said she had given up drinking while she tried to give up smoking, but now enjoys an occasional glass of wine with meals.

Ms Ramsey-Hale said she was astonished by a letter, read out by Mr. Brodie, from Howard Hamilton QC to the chief justice in which Mr. Hamilton said he had brought to Ms. Ramsey-Hale’s attention Mrs. Levers’ concerns over her playing dominos and drinking in public.

She insisted Mr. Hamilton had never told her to stop drinking or playing dominos, nor mentioned that Mrs. Levers had brought this to his attention. Ms Ramsey-Hale said he merely asked her: ‘What have you done to that lady?’ and would not elaborate on the subject while in her chambers.

Ms Ramsey-Hale said that Mrs. Levers had also appeared to make disparaging comments about her in the Court of Appeal. However, she added that she would be ‘hard pressed’ to name an occasion when the judge was unkind to her in person.

Catherine Chesnut

The issue of the appointment of Catherine Chesnut to the post of legal research analyst was also addressed Tuesday. Attorney Terrence Caudeiron said the judge had talked to her about Ms Chesnut’s appointment over the telephone.

Ms Caudeiron had previously held the position of legal analyst but had left to go into private practice. This followed an unsuccessful attempt by the chief justice to secure a salary increase for her, the tribunal heard.

Subsequently, she discovered that Ms Chesnut, who did not hold a law degree as stipulated in the job advertisement for the position, had secured the job and had also been given a higher salary than Ms Caudeiron had been receiving.

Some time after that conversation, a letter appeared in the Cayman Net News on the subject, using similar words to those spoken by Mrs. Levers, leading Ms Caudeiron to surmise that it was written by Mrs. Levers.

The tribunal heard that Mrs. Levers had told Ms Caudeiron about receiving a letter from Mr. Smellie in which he stated Mrs. Levers was not fit for higher office.

‘I was shocked when she told me,’ Ms Caudeiron said. ‘I was shocked that she would repeat that to me.’

She said that the judge had told her the letter from the chief justice had ‘all the hallmarks of Justice [Dale] Sanderson’ and that Canadian court staff as well as Campbells law firm had played a role in the letter, and she spoke of recording them on tape whenever they appeared before her.