A late January filing in the Grand Court seeks to bankrupt West Bay’s John Gordon Hewitt and wife Velma Powery-Hewitt for failing to pay nearly $140,000 in costs to Education Minister Tara Rivers.
The bankruptcy petition comes after a March 13, 2015, decision by Chief Justice Anthony Smellie to hold the Hewitts responsible for Ms. Rivers’s US$138,666.79 defense against a formal challenge to her eligibility to stand for office in the May 22, 2013, election.
Six days after the vote, Premier Alden McLaughlin appointed Ms. Rivers minister for education, employment and gender affairs.
The petition claims “John Gordon Hewitt, of … West Bay … is indebted to your Petitioner in the sum of US$138,666.79 evidenced by an Interim Costs Certificate dated June 25, 2015 entered by the Clerk of the Court in favour of the Petitioner …”
The two-page petition, filed on Jan. 29, says the judgment for costs was originally “entered” against Mr. Hewitt in June last year. When payment was not immediately forthcoming, a bankruptcy notice was served on July 29 seeking payment within seven days.
Ms. Rivers, the petition says, “therefore prays that … on the hearing of this petition, the said John Gordon Hewitt may be adjudged bankrupt,” setting a hearing for April 14.
The move brings to a head the long-simmering confrontation between Ms. Rivers, who won one of West Bay’s four seats in the May 2013 election. She finished only a few votes ahead of Mrs. Powery-Hewitt, whose husband subsequently challenged the future minister, claiming that her long residence outside the country, working for a London law firm, disqualified her under constitutional rules requiring a minimum residency period.
In a July 17-19, 2013, Grand Court case, Cayman constitutional adviser and London QC Jeffrey Jowell, supported by local attorney Paul Keeble of Hampson and Company, argued that Ms. Rivers had furthered her education – a constitutional exception to residency requirements – while practicing at London’s Allen & Overy, and that her possession of a U.S. passport did not indicate divided loyalty.
When handing down judgment on Aug. 9, 2013, Chief Justice Smellie did not indicate costs, but on March 13, 2014, in a 13-page decision, he cited Ms. Rivers’s claim that “it would be neither fair nor appropriate that she should be required to bear them herself …”
He did not name the amount, but called the costs “quite significant.”
The Jan. 29 petition caught the Hewitt couple by surprise.
“I don’t what I will do,” Mr. Hewitt said. “I don’t what will happen now.”
He said he felt “a little bit of disgust for Cayman’s constitutional system,” worrying that the chief justice had erred in his judgement.
“It’s just astonishing,” he said. “No one in the world expected that to go down the way it did.”
Mrs. Powery-Hewitt was bitterly disappointed, saying only, “I am just praying. I don’t know what else to do.”
Personal bankruptcy is similar to corporate bankruptcy. A court-approved trustee values all liabilities and assets, then proportionally distributes whatever remains among creditors.
In the extreme, bankruptcy could force the couple to liquidate their West Bay home, their car, any bank accounts and any other possessions.
Mr. Hewitt said family attorney Steve McField “is working on it.” Mr. McField declined to comment.
Ms. Rivers’s attorneys also declined to comment.
Ms. Rivers had not responded by press time to repeated efforts to contact her.