Net News letters probed

Letters critical to the judiciary and written under fake names were put under the spotlight at the Justice Priya Levers Tribunal on Wednesday morning.

The publisher of the Cayman Net News Desmond Seales and the paper’s managing editor Barry Randall – via video link from Miami – were both questioned about the origin of the letters.

Timothy Otty QC, counsel to the tribunal, asked Mr. Randall if he had any reason to believe a letter signed Leticia Barton had been penned by Mrs. Levers, to which Mr. Randall replied: ‘None whatsoever.’

A previous witness, Mrs. Levers’ former secretary Elizabeth Webb, had told the tribunal that she had seen an envelope on the judge’s desk signed Leticia Barton and addressed to ‘the editor’ prior to the publication of the letter.

The court heard that Mr. Randall had alerted his boss, Mr. Seales, to the Leticia Barton letter because he felt its controversial content criticising the judiciary could cause issues for the paper.

A series of letters critical to the judiciary that were published in the Net News included one from Thelma Turpin; another from Hoyt T.C. Williams alleging the courts were in disarray and that judges were acting inappropriately; and one from H. Irvin Jackson that alleged abuse of power.

Asked why he had raised concerns about the Barton letter on 27 July, 2007, and not those others, Mr. Randall said his personal perception was that the other letters were ‘borderline, but I think the Leticia Barton letter crossed that border’.

He said that the letter had been removed from the online edition of the paper, and he had been led to understand that steps were taken to prevent that edition of the Net News from being distributed on island. Mr. Seales, in his testimony, said the paper’s distribution had gone ahead because it was too late to stop it.

Mr. Randall had earlier contacted Mr. Seales about the letter signed ‘Thelma Turpin’ because she was his former sister-in-law and he believed she had no reason or interest in writing such a letter. Ms Turpin subsequently wrote to the paper stating she was not the author.

Mr. Seales said he had unsuccessfully attempted to contact Chief Justice Anthony Smellie on 26 July, 2007, when he realised the Leticia Barton letter had been published, to inform him that he was not personally responsible for criticism of the judiciary appearing in his paper.

Mr. Randall agreed with Mr. Otty that he had threatened legal proceedings against the chief justice, Mrs. Levers and Clerk of the Courts Valdis Foldats in relation to a refusal to be granted legal aid for a case involving Mr. Randall.

This was followed up by Mr. Brodie, who said that just a day before the Leticia Barton letter appeared in the Net News, an editorial had run criticising the judiciary and the chief justice over the issue of the granting of legal aid.

He pointed out that the Leticia Barton letter echoed the editorial, written with the input of both Mr. Seales and Mr. Randall, in that it mentioned Lord Bingham of the Privy Council and issues with legal aid.

Asked if it was possible the letter had been generated in house, Mr. Randall said: ‘It is a possibility, one that I don’t rate very highly.’

Mr. Seales, asked repeatedly by counsel for both the tribunal and for Mrs. Levers, if he had taken any steps to find out the true author of the Turpin letter, stated that Ms. Turpin, whom he had known for 30 years, had told him it was not she and he believed her.

When pressed further by tribunal judge Sir David Simmons, Mr. Seales admitted he had not taken any measures to find out who wrote it.

Mr. Seales said he had discovered that the letters in question had been destroyed, and after this he had put an edict in place whereby all letters to the editor must be vetted by Mr. Randall.