Letters probably written in house at Net News
Attorneys at the Justice Priya Levers tribunal last week abandoned claims that the suspended judge authored a series of newspaper letters slamming fellow judges.
Speaking on its last day of hearings Monday 18 May, 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. Mr. Brodie pointed 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 of vilification’ the paper had waged against Chief Justice Anthony Smellie and the Cayman judiciary at 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’ 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. Randall plainly had good motivation for attacking the judiciary and the Chief Justice in particular,’ Mr Brodie said. ‘That is plainly what he was doing.’
Mr. Brodie agreed that the letter writing claims were very serious, and would have warranted the judge’s 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. Brodie asked.
Of the remaining accusations against the judge, he said ‘some are stronger than others, varying across the spectrum from pretty weak to perhaps of some substance.’
Those complaints came against a background ‘of court reporters whose veracity and bona fides are perhaps questionable; and even more importantly a situation infected and pensioned by the false evidence given by [Elizabeth] Webb and others, which sadly, as we say, led the Chief Justice into error.’
Mrs. Webb, the judge’s long time secretary, told the tribunal she saw a letter on Justice Levers’ desk, in the judge’s handwriting, addressed ‘to the editor’ and signed Leticia Barton – a name that later appeared under one of the Net News letters.
Mr. Otty said Mrs Webb had demonstrated a real certainty of belief in what she claimed to have seen, but he added that ‘it is not possible to accept her account as well founded.’
Despite the collapse of the letter writing case, Mr. Otty insisted the tribunal has heard plenty of other examples in which the judge’s behaviours fell below the standard that should be expected of a Grand Court judge.
He pointed to various witness accounts that Justice Levers repeatedly criticised the Chief Justice and other judges, and listed a string of examples of inappropriate courtroom behaviour and comments.
In one case, the judge is accused of making a wrist slashing gesture at a woman being treated for depression, also telling her ‘that is what you get for being married to a black man.’
In another case, 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.
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.