“[Tara Rivers] therefore prays that … on the hearing of this petition, the said John Gordon Hewitt may be adjudged bankrupt.”
… Politics ain’t beanbag.
That axiom seemed to resonate with Mr. Hewitt and wife Velma Powery-Hewitt upon their learning of the Grand Court filing we just quoted from, which Ms. Rivers submitted after being unable to collect on a US$140,000 debt owed by Mr. Hewitt for legal costs she accrued during her successful defense against Mr. Hewitt’s 2013 challenge to her eligibility to hold elected office in the Cayman Islands.
“I don’t know what I will do,” Mr. Hewitt said. “I don’t know what will happen now.”
“I am just praying. I don’t know what else to do,” echoed Mrs. Powery-Hewitt, who ran under the United Democratic Party banner in the 2013 election, finishing fifth in the four-member West Bay, the district Ms. Rivers now represents in the Legislative Assembly.
Following the election, Mr. Hewitt filed a legal challenge, questioning Ms. Rivers’s fulfillment of constitutional criteria regarding residency, and citing the fact that Ms. Rivers possessed a U.S. passport.
Those were, in our opinion, not only very good questions about Ms. Rivers’s particular situation, but also very important questions about our fledging 2009 Constitution that deserved to have been settled by a judge for the edification of future potential candidates.
In a ruling that was, in a word, remarkable (remarkable in the sense that it is still being remarked about), Chief Justice Anthony Smellie determined that Ms. Rivers was indeed eligible to hold elected office, determining that her work at a London law firm was equivalent to studying at an “educational institution” (a constitutional exception to residency requirements) and that her possession of a U.S. passport, which she obtained by virtue of being born in the U.S., did not indicate she was acting “under an obligation or obedience to a foreign power.”
Mr. Hewitt attempted to appeal Justice Smellie’s decision, but his petition was denied by the Court of Appeal, whose reasoning was far more straightforward, at least to non-lawyerly laypersons like us.
President Sir John Chadwick said, “The Constitution says the Grand Court decision is final, that it is a ‘no-go’ area for us.” (He was referencing Section 66 of the Constitution, which says questions about the validity of anyone’s election to the assembly, “shall be determined by the Grand Court, whose decision shall be final and not subject to any appeal.”).
Unlike Mr. Hewitt and his attorneys, we do not here dispute the validity of Justice Smellie’s judgment. We are merely asserting our opinion that Mr. Hewitt’s challenge to Ms. Rivers’s eligibility was serious, and certainly not frivolous. (Contrast Mr. Hewitt’s case with the inane challenge by four West Bay residents to the closure of West Bay Road. There, the first part of the case was funded through Legal Aid, and ultimately the Court of Appeal shielded the four women from paying for the costs of their opponents’ successful defense.)
We also can’t help but take notice of the potential irony engendered by Ms. Rivers’s recent request of the court: If Mr. Hewitt is to be adjudged bankrupt, then it is he who shall lose his ability to hold elected office in Cayman. … And all because he sought an interpretation of an important constitutional statute that, for the vast majority of Cayman’s population, was most unclear prior to the chief justice’s ruling.
After the judgment was handed down, Premier Alden McLaughlin (who is an attorney) said, “The law on this has been all over the place.
“I think, for the first time, we have real clarity on the provision about passports, the issue of what qualifies as an ‘educational establishment’ for the purposes of the constitutional provision as well as residency.”
In his decision to hold Mr. Hewitt liable for Ms. Rivers’s legal costs, Chief Justice Smellie cited Ms. Rivers’s claim that “it would be neither fair nor appropriate that she should be required to bear them herself.”
As they say, fair is fair. But in this instance, is it “politically correct” or politically wise for Ms. Rivers to move forward with this debilitating action?