Supporters of Gordon Hewitt and former West Bay political candidate Velma Powery-Hewitt last week launched a fundraising appeal to defray court costs of nearly $140,000, incurred in the couple’s 2013 challenge to candidate Tara Rivers’ election to Legislative Assembly.
The appeal on the GoFundMe.com website seeks $150,000 in an effort to prevent the bankruptcy of the West Bay couple in the wake of a 13-page, March 13 decision last year by Chief Justice Anthony Smellie ordering Gordon Hewitt to pay court costs for Ms. Rivers – now minister for education, employment and gender affairs.
While that order did not specify the amount or time frame, a two-page Jan. 29, 2016, petition named US$138,666.79, giving Mr. Hewitt, 79, until April 14 before the court convenes an in-camera hearing to declare the couple bankrupt.
The fundraising committee’s Anne Briggs said only that it was “a sad situation,” and that she had learned of it on the “Caymanians United for our Cayman Islands” Facebook page.
“It’s the kind of thing that some people think should go to [London’s] Privy Council,” she said, although stopping short of advocating any legal action. “I just wonder how this helps any Caymanian.”
Mr. Hewitt’s 2013 Grand Court case came in the wake of May 22 elections in which Ms. Powery-Hewitt finished fifth in the four-seat constituency. The dual challenge questioned Ms. Rivers’s constitutional eligibility to stand for elective office, saying she had regularly used a U.S. passport, throwing her national allegiance into question. Additionally, she had been absent from Cayman more than 400 days in the seven years prior to her registration as an elective candidate.
In a July 17-19, 2013, Grand Court hearing, 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 – during her 31-month practice at London law firm 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, accepting the arguments, declared Ms. Rivers in compliance with the constitution, asserting that Allen & Overy was an educational institution, her U.S. passport was irrelevant to her allegiance and that the Conyers Dill & Pearman attorney was eligible to stand for office.
He did not indicate costs at the time, but reserved judgment, citing in last year’s March demand for payment Ms. Rivers claim that “it would be neither fair nor appropriate that she should be required to bear them herself …”
On Friday, Ms. Powery-Hewitt said she was “absolutely overwhelmed with a sense of relief” by the fundraising effort.
Having been deeply affected by the court’s January judgment, Ms. Powery-Hewitt said she was suddenly “on pins and needles” with reason for hope: “I am beginning to be uplifted by some beautiful young folks taking this up for me” she said.
She had worked, she said, with Ms. Briggs and “three or four others,” to detail the background of the appeal in 17 paragraphs, carefully focusing her efforts on the constitutional principles of the original challenge to Ms. Rivers.
“The constitution,” she said, “is not a document for individuals or to be tampered with. The question here is ‘what is good government’ and no one should be punished for questioning what the constitution means. I am to be put on the street for this?
“I hope to bring about a dialogue,” she said, worrying that the $140,000 costs of her action would discourage every citizen and “registered voter” who might want to mount a constitutional challenge in the future.
“Now anyone that might see a discrepancy [between the constitution and official behavior] will not say anything,” Ms. Powery-Hewitt said, employing a popular judicial phrase to forecast the result: “It has a rippling, chilling effect. No one is going to open their mouth.
“This is not – and never was – a personal challenge” to Ms. Rivers.
Minister Rivers had not responded to requests for comment by press time.
It remains unclear if the fundraising appeal has a time limit.
The April 14 in-camera hearing, Ms. Powery-Hewitt said, will determine any further steps.
“This actually matters quite a lot,” she said. “The judge could ask if I am ready to pay – and if I am, then that would settle any demand for full payment. If not, he could appoint a trustee, who will go to the Land Registry and compile a list of our assets and liabilities.
“That would come back to the court, which will decide what can be taken, what cannot and what can be sold. It will come down to whether this is an injustice or not.” However, with Ms. Briggs and her partners’ efforts, Ms. Powery-Hewitt said, “there is light at the end of tunnel.”