In September 2013, an employee of architect Burns Conolly complained about improper payroll deductions for medical insurance. Nearly two-and-a-half years later, the matter finally has been put to rest by a Cayman Islands judge — for the grand total of $714.42.
During those two-and-a-half years, Mr. Conolly hired legal counsel. He appeared in court. His reputation suffered. His company, the Burns Conolly Group, is no longer operational. And all for a relatively modest sum, that (please pay attention to this) he had already tried to reimburse to the employee in the form of a check sent last year. The check was returned to him by Cayman’s Legal Department. (Talk about a “bounced check”!)
Presiding Magistrate Angelyn Hernandez said, “I […] see no purpose in proceeding where the defense indicates willingness to pay and [the offense] was due to an accounting error.”
Neither do we, Your Honor. Neither do we.
Defense attorney Michael Alberga said, “The end result is good. Justice is served.”
Pardon us, Mr. Alberga, but we’re not certain we agree.
In June 2013, then-Complaints Commissioner Nicola Williams produced a bombshell report on Cayman’s private sector pension system, showing that more than 1,100 local businesses were delinquent in paying their employee pensions. Government’s response to this “national crisis” (to borrow the former commissioner’s phraseology), was, at best, tepid … and, at worst, had the appearance of being selective. A great number of cases were settled administratively, while a handful were pushed all the way through the court system, with the result of no significant penalties being levied.
Now, we realize that nonpayment of health insurance and nonpayment of pensions are not the same thing, but the circumstances are similar. We cite Ms. Williams’s report on pensions because it illustrates the extent of the common problem of employers mishandling — or even misappropriating — their employees’ benefits. (In the most extreme situations, we have likened those offenses to outright thievery.)
Given the “target-rich environment” in which our public prosecutors exist, we can’t completely quell our suspicions that, perhaps, Mr. Conolly may have been singled out because of who he is — an outspoken personality and political figure — rather than what he did — the matter of $714.42.
Remember, that’s money Mr. Conolly tried to pay back, but that the Legal Department wouldn’t allow him to, instead preferring to haul him in front of a judge — or more specifically, his attorneys (Mr. Conolly was not present at this last hearing) — along with seven … yes, seven … witnesses.
Thankfully, Magistrate Hernandez was presiding over the court that day, and, exercising sound reasoning and common sense, summarily aborted the entire charade.
We aren’t saying that delinquent employers shouldn’t face consequences for not paying their employees what they’re due. We also aren’t saying that Mr. Conolly should have enjoyed an exception to the rule of law.
What we are saying is that the government should not endeavor to “make an example” out of a single person, while refusing or being unable to enforce the law in a uniform and universal way.
In other words, selective prosecution is not, and does not bring about, justice.