Lawyer files lawsuit and injunction against ‘Cayman Reporter’ newspaper
A local attorney has obtained a rare court injunction to bar at least temporarily the publication of a newspaper story he claims is professionally defamatory and which he said falsely accuses him of committing criminal offenses.
In addition to being granted the injunction, James Austin-Smith of the Campbells law firm also sued DCE Media Ltd., doing business as the Cayman Reporter, on Tuesday over the story that appeared on Jan. 16 titled “Violation of rights could result in unfair trial.”
Mr. Austin-Smith said he intends to press on with the lawsuit over the story. According to the brief writ, the attorney seeks damages for libel and a permanent injunction against the publication of the story.
In the story, the publication quoted from a letter that was sent earlier in the month to several Cayman media organizations – including the Cayman Compass – purporting to be from an attorney representing Hassan Syed, the former president of the University College of the Cayman Islands. Syed is currently facing charges in Grand Court relating to theft, obtaining a pecuniary advantage and obtaining orders by deception. He left this jurisdiction in 2008, claiming to be suffering from a severe illness.
It was later revealed Syed left after the release of a financial audit to the UCCI board in April 2008 that found “unsubstantiated financial transactions for the office of the president.”
Syed returned to the islands in May 2014 for a Grand Court appearance and was released on bail.
The accusations against Mr. Austin-Smith in the letter sent to the Cayman Islands media cannot be specifically reported due to legal concerns and because of a temporary injunction issued Friday by Grand Court Justice Ingrid Mangatal.
They referred generally to Mr. Austin-Smith’s actions during his representation of Syed in the criminal case. The Campbells attorney has since ceased to represent Syed legally.
Mr. Austin-Smith said Tuesday that he was never contacted for comment prior to the story appearing in the Cayman Reporter on Jan. 16. He said he asked the publication to remove the story from its website, but it did not immediately do so.
As of Tuesday, five days after the court issued the temporary injunction, copies of the publication containing the alleged defamatory accusations against Mr. Austin-Smith were available at a local grocery store and a gas station, and some social media sites still carried copies of the story.
Mr. Austin-Smith said he filed only a civil action and did not intend at this point to press a criminal libel case.
The current Human Rights Commission chairman is a well-known member of the local legal fraternity and has taken on a number of legal aid-funded criminal defense cases during his time here.
“At the moment, all I’m interested in is getting the thing down and having a retraction printed,” he said Tuesday.
Cayman Reporter publisher Deon Ebanks was contacted for comment Tuesday about the lawsuit and the temporary injunction. He told the Compass by email that he was unable to comment on the matter at this time.
A court hearing on the injunction scheduled for Thursday is expected to decide, among other things, whether the entire letter from Syed’s attorneys would be barred from publication, or if the order would apply only to the alleged defamatory materials.
At this stage, the Compass has decided not to publish any of the specific contents of the letter.