Lawyers at the Justice Priya Levers’ tribunal have abandoned claims that the suspended judge authored a series of newspaper letters slamming fellow judges.
In closing submissions Monday, counsel assisting the tribunal, Timothy Otty QC, accepted there was not enough evidence to support claims that Justice Levers authored the now infamous letters, asking the three-judge tribunal to make a “positive finding” about her involvement.
While Mr. Otty cautioned it is not the role of the tribunal to find out who the real author was, Stanley Brodie QC, for Justice Levers, said the letters were probably made in-house at the Cayman Net News, pointing the finger at the paper’s Miami based Managing Editor, Barry Randall.
The conclusion that the Net News was responsible for what Mr. Brodie described as “disguised editorial”, was consistent with the “constant campaign” the paper had waged against Chief Justice Anthony Smellie and the Cayman judiciary around the time the letters began appearing, Mr. Brodie said.
The conclusion also accorded with evidence given to the tribunal by former Net News employee John Evans, he added.
In a statement to the tribunal, Mr. Evans claimed that Net News Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Desmond Seales told him on at least two occasions that he needed to keep a close eye on the material Mr. Randall produced because the managing editor had the habit of trying to use the paper to fight his own personal battles.
“In practice, that eye always seemed to be looking the other way,” Mr. Evans’s statement said, referring to Mr. Seales.
Mr. Seales last week described that claim by Mr. Evans as ‘poppycock’.
In evidence given via video-link, Mr. Randall last week acknowledged threatening legal action against court administrators and judges in Cayman after being refused legal aid for a case he was involved in.
The tribunal has also heard that a pseudonym appearing under another of the letters – Thelma Turpin – is the name of Mr. Randall’s former sister-in-law, and that the now infamous Leticia Barton letter had closely mirrored an editorial the paper ran the day before the letter was published.
Mr. Brodie said claims that Justice Levers was the letter writer constituted a very serious matter – one that would have warranted her removal from office if proven.
‘But once that is out of the way, as indeed it must be, what are your lordships left with?’
Mr. Otty insisted there are plenty of other complaints against Justice Levers that the tribunal still has to consider before deciding whether she should be removed from office for misbehaviour.
He pointed to various witness accounts that she repeatedly criticised the Chief Justice and other judges, and listed a string of examples in which he said the judge’s court-room behavior fell below what should be expected of a Grand Court judge.
In one case, the judge is accused of making a wrist slashing gesture at a woman being treated for depression. In another, concerning a woman that almost died as a result of a domestic attack, she questioned why a ‘woman like that’ was being allowed to apply for Caymanian status.
Mr. Brodie said his client enjoyed an excellent reputation as a judge up until Governor Stuart Jack’s September 2008 decision to suspend her pending the outcome of the tribunal – a response Mr. Brodie said was disproportionate to the ‘relatively small number’ of complaints that have been made against the judge in more recent times.
‘It must be remembered that judges are human,’ Mr. Brodie said, calling for his client to be cleared and returned to the bench.
He insisted there is no middle ground option for the tribunal – it must either clear Justice Levers or recommend her removal.
‘These are matters that fall short of removal,’ Mr. Brodie said.
Concluding proceedings, Tribunal Chairman Sir Andrew Leggatt thanked attorneys that have participated in the tribunal’s nine days of public hearings, but he gave no timetable on when the three judge panel will report to the Governor.
Sir Andrew earlier suggested it will be up to Mr. Jack to decide whether to make the report public.