John Gordon Hewitt and Velma Powery-Hewitt are to appear Thursday afternoon, July 21, for bankruptcy proceedings amounting to nearly $140,000 related to a 2013 courtroom battle establishing Minister Tara Rivers’s eligibility to stand for elective office.
The case arises from a Jan. 29 petition in which Ms. Rivers, the Minister of Employment, Education and Gender Affairs, asked the court to enforce a March 15, 2015 decision by Chief Justice Anthony Smellie to hold the Hewitts responsible for Ms. Rivers’s $138,666.79 Grand Court costs, incurred defending against a constitutional challenge to her eligibility for the May 22, 2013, elections.
The outcome of the hearing could leave the West Bay couple without financial resources. Mr. Hewitt is 80. Mrs. Powery-Hewitt will turn 59 on Wednesday. Mr. Hewitt retired last year as a local businessman; Mrs. Powery-Hewitt, who retired in 2013, served 32 years as a civil servant, and is past president of the Business and Professional Women’s Club and the Rotarian Wives Club.
In the May 2013 elections, Mrs. Powery-Hewitt, running in West Bay for the United Democratic Party, finished fifth in the four-seat constituency, trailing fourth-place finisher Eugene Ebanks by 235 votes and second-place Ms. Rivers by 411 votes. Six days after the vote, Premier Alden McLaughlin appointed Ms. Rivers as minister.
In a June 2013 Grand Court challenge to Ms. Rivers, Mr. Hewitt alleged in a hearing before Chief Justice Smellie that Ms. Rivers had failed to meet constitutionally mandated residency requirements and had compromised her allegiance to the Cayman Islands through possession of a U.S. passport.
In an Aug. 9 decision, the chief justice vindicated Ms. Rivers, declaring London’s Allen & Overy law firm, where she worked between 2006 and 2009, an “educational institution,” an exception to the constitutional requirement that election candidates reside locally for seven years before standing for office.
Entitled by birth to a U.S. passport, Ms. Rivers had never pledged allegiance to the United States, leaving uncompromised her loyalty to the Cayman Islands, Chief Justice Smellie found.
At the time of his verdict, the chief justice indicated that Mr. Hewitt’s challenge had been brought in the public interest, but reserved judgment on costs, which remained unspecified.
In March 2015, the judge indicated the costs were “quite significant,” saying “it would be neither fair nor appropriate that [Ms. Rivers] should be required to bear them herself …”
In late January of this year, a Grand Court bankruptcy petition asked Mr. Hewitt to pay US$138,666.79, setting April 14 for a hearing before the Financial Services Division.
The hearing, in chambers before Grand Court Justice Ingrid Mangatal, was continued until June 2, then delayed again.
Monday’s Government gazette carried a notice “filed by Tabitha Philander, Trustee in Bankruptcy,” setting a July 21, “meeting of creditors” at 3 p.m. under “rule 42 Grand Court bankruptcy rules ….”
“John Gordon Hewitt,” the gazette said “was provisionally adjudged a bankrupt on the 14th day of April, 2016.”
On Monday, Mr. Hewitt said only that he was reacting “very poorly” to the news, although hoping for assistance. “I don’t know if it will come by Thursday, though.”
His house was his only asset, as an initial fundraising effort through www.gofundme.com had proved inadequate.
Attorney for Ms. Rivers, Hampson and Company’s Paul Keeble, declined to comment.