The Grand Court has ordered West Bay legislator Tara Rivers to detail in an affidavit her work, travel and residency history in anticipation of a 17 July hearing deciding her eligibility in Cayman’s late-May election.
Addressing a 12 June petition from United Democratic Party supporters challenging Ms Rivers’s breakthrough electoral victory last month, Justice Alexander Henderson on Tuesday told the court that he wanted Ms Rivers and her legal team to answer by 2 July a series of questions determining her citizenship and residency status prior to the Cayman Islands’ general election 22 May.
The answers will form the basis both of skeleton arguments in the dispute and the ensuing two-day, mid-July hearing to address allegations that Ms Rivers carries a foreign passport, has allegiance to the US and failed to meet the seven-year local residency requirement to qualify in national elections.
Nominated on 27 March, the independent candidate was elevated in the poll to second-elected member from West Bay, gaining one of the district’s four seats, a traditional UDP stronghold. She was later named minister of education, labour and gender affairs by Cayman Islands Premier and People’s Progressive Movement leader Alden McLaughlin, creating a coalition Cabinet.
The court petition, filed by John Gordon Hewitt, husband of fifth-place finisher and UDP candidate Velma Powery-Hewitt, asked the court to nullify Ms Rivers’s election and elevate Ms Powery-Hewitt to the Legislative Assembly seat.
Justice Henderson told the court that he wanted Ms Rivers “to file an affidavit detailing her places of residence … and the activities undertaken by her – periods of employment and periods of study.
“A number of interrogatories deal with passports and citizenship. The affidavit should set out which citizenships she has held and the means by which they were acquired.
“I will direct she itemize the passports she has held and the dates she has held them,” he said.
Ms Rivers was present during the hourlong session, but did not speak, taking notes and conferring with local attorney Graham Hampson and London’s Peter Keeble. A range of both supporters and detractors of the minister filled the gallery, including Ms Powery-Hewitt, and former independent candidates Mervin Smith and Paul Rivers.
Steve McField, acting for Mr. Hewitt, submitted 10 questions to the court, saying the acquisition of citizenship may lead to allegiance to a foreign power. Justice Henderson dismissed as irrelevant a pair of queries regarding aliases and “expert witnesses”, cited by Mr. McField as part of efforts to establish Ms Rivers’s identity and the city of her birth.
Mr. Keeble acknowledged that Ms Rivers had been born in the US, but downplayed the consequences: “She had citizenship thrust upon her by birth, but she never took an oath of allegiance,” he told the court.
Indicating his intended line of questioning, however, Mr. McField asked Ms Rivers if she had ever renounced a foreign passport; gained a “certificate of loss of nationality” as a result; if she still held a US passport; had travelled with it; was registered to vote in the US; had resided in the UK and had worked at London law firm Allen & Overy.
Mr. Hewitt’s petition alleges that Ms Rivers worked at the firm between 2 October, 2006, and 30 May, 2009, “and did in fact during that period reside in the United Kingdom”.
She joined local firm Conyers Dill & Pearman in 2009.
Saying the hearing was “an urgent matter that had to be taken care of quickly”, Justice Henderson said he would direct Supervisor of Elections Kearney Gomez “to return to this court, the relevant election papers, including nomination papers.”
Those papers will include all 27 March candidate-nomination forms from all the electoral districts, including related notes, letters or additions, including voluntary disclosure forms given to each candidate, although not required.
The documents, sealed subsequent to the official 23 May election tally, are locked in the government administration building for one year before being destroyed. Justice Henderson’s order is the first in 33 years of modern elections seeking return of the papers.
He also ordered Mr. McField by 2 July to notify Attorney General Sam Bulgin of the 17 July hearing, ordering that any “summaries or statements” by his chambers be submitted to the court by 12 July.